The Texas abortion ban reveals how our society continuously takes away the rights of women, BIPOC and transgender people.
As of 1 September 2021, Texas has enacted the Heartbeat Bill, a near-total ban that only allows abortions before a fetal heartbeat is detected, which usually happens at around six weeks, long before most people know they are pregnant. Beyond that, healthcare providers can only perform abortions if the woman’s life is in immediate danger, with no exceptions in cases of rape or incest. Sound familiar? The 2021 bill is awfully similar to the first-ever ban on abortion that Texas approved back in 1854, with the only difference being that the latest law is not going to be upheld by the state. To avoid conflicts with Roe v Wade, the 1973 law that legalised the voluntary termination of pregnancy federally, citizens can now sue abortion providers and be awarded at least $10,000: a modern age bounty-hunt.
“The 2021 bill is awfully similar to the first-ever ban on abortion that Texas approved back in 1854…”
How the bill actually affects women and transgender people’s lives is not hard to imagine. The de facto ban is going to have a heavy toll on mental health, while also forcing people either to seek abortions in other states or to get illegal, unsafe abortions, which account for 8% to 11% of maternal death, according to the Human Rights Watch.
Minorities are likely to face the worst consequences. BIPOC have historically been charged for pregnancy-related crimes, such as the cases of Regina McKnight, Rennie Gibbs, Nina Buckwalter, and many more Black Americans that were charged with depraved-heart murder when their pregnancies resulted in still-birth. Generally speaking, marginalised groups more often resort to abortions due to poor sex education and little access to contraception and are, therefore, more likely to try and end pregnancies at home or in back-alley clinics. Young women are also going to face further challenges in the future if they’re forced to carry out a pregnancy when they were not prepared to do so. Low-income individuals and undocumented immigrants are also more affected by this bill because of economic and legal challenges accessing transportation to seek healthcare in other states.
“…marginalised groups more often resort to abortions and are, therefore, more likely to try and end pregnancies at home or in back-alley clinics…”
Across the pond, many think that people in need of abortion in the UK are safe from consequences. The harsh reality is that Texas is just the latest expression of an ever-increasing anti-reproductive rights trend. For instance, while most people might think that abortion in the UK is fully legal, it is actually only technically allowed for socio-economic reasons in the first 24 weeks, and for medical emergencies after that. It is also worth noticing that, while the 1967 Abortion Act legalised abortions in the UK for the first time, in England and Wales it is officially still a criminal offence and remain difficult to have in Northern Ireland.
In addition to this, we can already see a turn towards conservative policies. During the pandemic, women were allowed to use at-home early medical abortions, and the consensus between healthcare organisations is that at-home abortions improve care and work very efficiently. However, the British government is actually considering the reimposition of criminal charges for people that use abortion pills at home. In an interview with Refinery29, chief executive of British Pregnancy Advisory Service Clare Murphy said that “if the government removes permission for telemedical abortions, any woman who uses pills at home could be imprisoned for life for an abortion at any gestation under the 1861 Offences Against the Person Act” and continues “even the Texas law doesn’t threaten women with that.”
“…the British government is actually considering the reimposition of criminal charges for people that use abortion pills at home…”
We should question what this bill says about the society we live in, a society that still inherently does not respect women’s bodies, their decisions, and their futures. We live in a society that too often shows no common sense towards women’s reproductive autonomy, and forces them to carry out pregnancies even if they’re the product of rape – but, if rape and incest were exceptions, does it mean that a woman has autonomy over her body only after it’s been violated? Last but not least, we should question why we live in a society that protects embryos by every means possible while police violence against BIPOC keeps going unpunished, and retaliation against White rapists is mostly mild; Texas Governor Greg Abbott responded to critics of the ban by saying the ultimate goal is to eliminate rape, however, Texan abortion providers potentially face a harsher sentence than rapists.
So at the end of the day, in terms of women’s abortion rights, it doesn’t really matter whether it is 2021 or 1854. There is only one thing we really know: abortion is a personal decision, not a legal and political debate. Our governments must do better, we must do better.