A new law banning abortion after six weeks in Texas has been described as “grotesque” and an “all-out assault on reproductive health”.
The so-called ‘Heartbeat Act’ bans all abortions once embryonic cardiac activity can be detected, which usually happens at around six weeks before many even know they’re pregnant. It provides no exceptions for pregnancies resulting from rape or incest – the only way abortion will be allowed after six weeks is in the case of a medical emergency.
The law also gives any individual the right to sue anyone who “aids and abets” an illegal abortion, prompting fears from care providers that anti-abortion activists will be able to use the law to close down clinics across the state.
Texans who wish to have an abortion after six weeks will now be forced to travel across state lines, which only adds to the cost of such a procedure.
The legislation, which came into effect on Wednesday, goes directly against the precedent set by the 1973 Supreme Court decision in Roe v Wade, which ruled that access to safe and legal abortion is a constitutional right.
At least 12 other states – including Georgia, Kentucky and Mississippi – have enacted similar early abortion bans, but all have been blocked from going into effect.
The Supreme Court’s decision not to block the new law in Texas comes after the death of US Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg at the end of 2020, which allowed former president Donald Trump to appoint yet another conservative judge (in this case, Amy Coney Barrett) and give the right a 6-3 majority (the ruling over the Texas law ended 5-4).
Online, people have reacted to news of the ban with shock and dismay, with many highlighting how the law essentially forces those who do not realise they’re pregnant before six weeks to carry a child, and puts women’s bodies under increased scrutiny.
“The TX law is pernicious legislation,” wrote feminist writer and author Roxane Gay. “It places women under undue scrutiny. Women are now either pre-pregnant or pregnant without bodily autonomy. I am not going to relitigate previous elections. Many feminists warned what would happen.”
She continued: “The TX ban on abortion is terrible. A weak word. Grotesque really. Placing the power of policing women in the hands of individuals is a dangerous precedent. This imperils women in so many ways I can hardly wrap my mind around it.”
“It’s pretty simple: we should all be able to make our own decisions about our health and future,” she wrote. “But between TX’s extreme abortion ban and states passing a record number of abortion restrictions this year, we have to fight for everyone’s reproductive freedom #BansOffOurBodies.”
And actor Reese Witherspoon simply added: “I stand with the women of Texas who have the Constitutional right to make decisions about their health and their own bodies #BansOffOurBodies.”
Elsewhere, others went on to point out how the ban will disproportionately affect Black and low-income people, who typically have less access to healthcare or may not have the means to travel.
“I’m thinking about the Black, brown, low-income, queer and young folks in Texas,” wrote US Congresswoman Cori Bush. “The folks this abortion health care ban will disproportionately harm. Wealthy white folks will have the means to access abortion care. Our communities won’t.”
Vice President Kamala Harris added: “Today, a new law takes effect in Texas that directly violates the precedent established in the landmark case of Roe v. Wade. This all-out assault on reproductive health effectively bans abortion for the nearly 7 million Texans of reproductive age.
“Patients in Texas will now be forced to travel out-of-state or carry their pregnancy to term against their will. This law will dramatically reduce access to reproductive care for women in Texas, particularly for women with low incomes and women of colour.”
While groups such as Planned Parenthood are now organising protests and petitions to try and reverse the ban (using the hashtag #BansOffOurBodies), for now, people trying to access abortions in Texas face a challenging future.
Indeed, as a now-viral thread by Texas-based women’s healthcare worker @gracieminabox highlights, at the centre of this ban are real people facing indescribable situations – and we mustn’t forget that.
“Tonight I’m thinking about Imani, who had a condom break the first time she had sex. Six and a half weeks,” the thread began, before going on to describe the situations faced by a long list of women who had sought an abortion after six weeks.
“All names above, obviously, have been changed,” the thread continued. “The stories have not been. Had any of these patients presented for abortion care in Texas tomorrow, the law would have required us to turn them away.”
Concluding with a list of organisations people can support, she added: “I am sick with the knowledge that none of the stories I just related are unique or even rare.
“I am sick with the knowledge that my homestate’s legislature is so callous as to not care and so egomaniacal as to presume they know better than pregnant people or their doctors.”