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* Trigger Warning: discussion of abortion and mention of incest and rape
It’s been nearly 50 years since the landmark Supreme Court decision, ‘Roe v Wade,’ abolished all existing criminal abortion laws in the USA, making abortions within 24 weeks of pregnancy legal under the fourteenth amendment of personal liberty. Leading up to that point, abortion rights had been hard-fought by emergent 1960s feminist groups who used marches, speak-outs and lobbying to repeal abortion laws in states like New York, Hawaii and Washington DC.
The initial introduction of anti-abortion laws in the 1800s came about as an oppressive reaction to the falling rate of white Protestant American births and the growing suffrage movement which advocated for “voluntary motherhood.” Anti-abortion movements sought to confine women into traditionalist motherhood roles, operating with a eugenic-based vendetta against immigrants and women of colour. Resultantly, the ‘middle period’ between the illegalisation of abortion and introduction of ‘Roe v Wade’ in 1973 saw both the socioeconomic curbing of women’s freedoms, and also a scrambling for illegal abortions.
Anti-abortion laws predominantly affected women of colour, younger women and those from low income backgrounds as they had little to no access to foreign clinics and therefore, were forced to undergo crude forms of domestic illegal abortions which often resulted in injury or death. It wasn’t until the 1960s that underground groups like the ‘Clergy Consultation Service on Abortion’ and the ‘Chicago Women’s Liberation Union’ set up affordable illegal access to funding and clinics.
However, ‘Roe v Wade’ promised a definitive end to this, facilitating abortion freedom. This led to the modern assumption that – almost half a decade after ‘Roe v Wade’ and the attainment of abortion as a personal liberty – the decision be upheld in arguably the most liberal age for civil rights and equality.
Nonetheless, ‘Senate Bill 8,’ which came into action on the 1st of September after being passed by Republican Texas Governor Greg Abbott in May, sneers in the face of historic abortion activism and women’s rights. The bill criminalises all abortions in the state of Texas past the point of embryonic-cardiac activity (which is generally 6 weeks) though most are unaware of pregnancy at this point. In action it works to eradicate any and all abortions in the state by empowering private citizens to sue anyone who aids or abets an illegal abortion. SB8 makes no exceptions for cases of rape or incest.
Since the ‘Roe v Wade’ decision in 1973, an onslaught of anti-abortion legislation has been passed such as: parent permission laws, unnecessary ultrasound scans to slow the abortion process and the enforcement of waiting periods. Numerous anti-abortion legislation attempts have been blocked by the Supreme Court, like the 2016 case ‘Whole Women’s Health v Hellerstent,’ ruled unconstitutional for violating the fourteenth amendment and – more recently – ‘heartbeat’ bills similar to SB8.
How then, has the new SB8 been passed if bills like it have been acquitted in the past?
One reason could be lingering debris from Trump’s presidency, which saw the appointment of Republican Supreme Court Justices; Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh, allowing more conservative bills like this one to slip past the Supreme Court.
Additionally, the way in which SB8 relies on public “whistle-blowers” rather than state or governmental enforcement has allowed the bill to escape a court blockage.
However, this may prove more dangerous than state enforcement of the bill, as it rallies ‘whistle-blower’ groups and individuals against abortion clinics. This will not only undoubtedly force them to shut down due to the economic toll of legal fees as so-called ‘bounty hunters’ have already begun to flood clinic lines with false appointments, but it also rallies a conservative anti-abortion community against liberal freedoms in the state.
One group behind the passing of the bill, ‘Texas Right to Life’ have already established a website for ‘whistle-blowers’ and in 2019 received $2 million in donations alone, clearly demonstrating the prolific anti-abortion sympathies in Texas. Powerful conservative groups like these threaten abortion rights as they concentrate an anti-abortion psyche and have the economic capital to legally challenge abortion providers.
Though the bill seems to thrust Texas into a historically cyclical dark age with, before the passing of ‘Roe v Wade,’ abortion fund support groups attempting to raise aid funds for out-of-state procedures and the recent decriminalisation of abortion in Mexico promising another ally to rally against a possible conservative spread. Instead, the passing of the bill breathes modern life into a historical conservative psyche that carries the outdated and immoral burdens of institutionalised sexism, racism and eugenics enforcement.
Those – like ‘Texas Right to Life’ – who facilitated SB8 seem to have no problem wearing this baggage at the forefront of their community identity. Spitting in the face of modern civil liberties by winding around the words of the law sets a dangerous precedent that could see surrounding Republican stronghold states like Oklahoma, Louisiana and Mississippi falling prey to similar heartbeat laws and conservative bills.
Lancaster University Feminist Society commented on SB8, saying:
“every woman, every human being should have agency over their own body…when people don’t believe that inequality is still prominent in society and they are dismissive of smaller acts of discrimination, legislation like this really shows that there is problem and that problem is with women. Women’s rights are slowly advancing and an action like this takes a toll on the progression of the entire feminist movement.”
Whilst, on direct legal level, Biden administration has actively filed a civil lawsuit against the bill, this comment from Lancaster University Feminist Society broaches the epicentre of the problem that can be attacked personally and locally: the unchecked rallying of hateful, traditionalist communities facilitating outdated aggressions like these, even in a modern society!
Only in personal activism against societal aggressions, can basic human liberties be assured and repressive notions be checked so we don’t suffer further backpedalling like what has happened in Texas.