“This forced pregnancy act will drive women back into the [pre-Roe] shadows,” warned one Democratic lawmaker in the state.
“Abhorrent” and “unconscionable” were words used Wednesday by women’s health and rights advocates to describe the latest extreme ban on abortion care as Republican Texas Gov. Greg Abbott signed into law a measure that bans the procedure after six weeks and allows virtually any private citizen to attempt to penalize abortion providers in the state.
The law, which provides no exceptions for survivors or rape or incest, is set to take effect in September.
“The cruelty is so clearly the point,” tweeted NARAL Pro-Choice America.
Along with the ban, which would put abortion care out of reach for women before many even find out they are pregnant, Senate Bill 8 allows any citizen—regardless of their connection to a patient or lack thereof—to sue anyone who “aids or abets” abortion care.
As The Guardian reported, the measure opens up “a breathtakingly wide range of possible people and groups” who could be sued for helping someone to access an abortion.
“This law is so broadly written it could target not just abortion clinics and staff but anyone that volunteers or donates to an abortion fund or activist organization like ours,” Aimee Arrambide, executive director of reproductive rights advocacy group Avow Texas, told The Guardian. “Domestic violence and rape crisis counselors who offer guidance, family members who lend money to abortion patients, a friend who gives a ride to an appointment, or even someone that provides an address to a clinic could also face lawsuits.”
The bill’s proponents added an amendment to the legislation to those who commit rape or incest resulting in an unwanted pregnancy from taking legal action. But the provision applies only to people who are convicted of a crime—a vanishingly small number considering that an estimated 91% of survivors in Texas do not report rapes to the police and given that accused rapists are rarely convicted in the state.
While Abbott and the Republican legislators who pushed the bill through have labeled the legislation a “heartbeat bill” because it bans abortion after cardiac activity—though not an actual heartbeat—can be detected, state Rep. Donna Howard called S.B 8 a “forced pregnancy act” before its final passage.
“This bill empowers rapists and abusers, and lawyers and trolls who want to abuse and clog up our courts,” said Howard, a Democrat. “And this forced pregnancy act will drive women back into the [pre-Roe] shadows out of fear of harassment through lawsuits that anyone in this country can file.”
The bill has been condemned by more than 370 attorneys, who said it would have a “destabilizing” effect on Texas’s legal system, as well as more than 200 physicians across the state.
“We are specifically concerned that SB 8/HB 1515 grants ‘any person’ the right to sue physicians and medical staff who may provide information or referrals for abortion care,” the physicians wrote earlier this month in an open letter to the Texas House of Representatives. “These bills create a chilling effect that might prevent physicians from providing information on all pregnancy options to patients out of fear of being sued. The Texas legislature has no right to cause this type of grievous harm to Texas physicians or the people we serve.”
Critics including former Democratic presidential candidate Julian Castro expressed outrage on social media.
This is an all-out assault on reproductive health by @GregAbbott_TX and Republicans in the Texas legislature.
We must vigorously defend these rights in court, and hold every lawmaker who supported this effort accountable at the ballot box. https://t.co/8PL7BKqS1t
— Julián Castro (@JulianCastro) May 19, 2021
Texas women’s right to to choose when and how to have families is being attacked at every level. Just today, Governor Abbott outlawed abortion at 6 weeks — before many women even know they’re pregnant. We will not let this happen. https://t.co/hoJPvjtd45
— Rachel O’Leary Carmona (@RachCarmona) May 19, 2021
Journalist Meagan Day tweeted that the extreme anti-choice bill is likely an attempt by Texas Republicans to stoke the flames of a “culture war” and shore up support among conservatives in a state where experts say demographic changes are leading to Democratic gains in some areas.
“This is unconscionable,” Day tweeted. “Six weeks is hardly even enough time to figure out that you’re pregnant.”
This is unconscionable. Six weeks is hardly even enough time to figure out that you’re pregnant https://t.co/EoPdYIcogT
— Meagan Day (@meaganmday) May 19, 2021
“But while talk-show grist is the immediate objective, real people will suffer on the ground, above all working-class women,” Day wrote.