Austin, TX – In December 2021, the United States Supreme Court upheld Senate Bill 8 known as the “Texas Heartbeat Bill.”
Section 8 allows any private citizen in Texas, or elsewhere, to sue anyone who performs an abortion in the state after an embryo’s cardiac activity can be detected. This law allows any private citizen to sue anyone in Texas who “aids or abets” anyone in getting an abortion in Texas after that period or anyone who intends to aid or abet that process.
The New York Times reports abortion rates dropped by 50% in September, when the bill was passed, compared to the previous year. The Washington Post is reporting clinics with barebones staff are getting overwhelmed, while patients who want to receive treatment are waiting as long as two weeks for an appointment.
Austin physician Joe Nelson told the Post, “If there is a two-week waiting period, you would have had to schedule your abortion before you missed your period. How can we possibly expect patients to do that?”
The law is known as the “Heartbeat Bill” due to the fact that “the law cared about the presence of cardiac activity, which is typically detected around six weeks after the embryo has been formed,” according to Texas Monthly.
According to 19th News, 2014 data showed that Black, Latinx, and Native American people are disproportionately affected by financial hardship, which means they may have fewer resources and flexibility to potentially travel outside of Texas for a legal abortion.
For Michele Goodwin, a chancellor’s professor of law at the University of California, Irvine, the law is comparable to the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 that allowed local governments to deputize private citizens to aid in the capture of runaway slaves.
“People say, ‘Well, that’s just extreme. It’s alarmist.’ It is not,” Goodwin said. “I think what is alarming and what is extreme are the histories and the present that exist that are irrefutable, and that are well documented.”
Drucilla Tigner, a reproductive rights policy strategist with the ACLU of Texas, argues that state lawmakers have “unleashed” a law that they will not have full control over, according to the 19th News.
“Even if they don’t intend to go after certain people, that doesn’t mean that the rest of the world — which this law gives standing to — won’t,” Tigner said.
The Supreme Court interviewed attorneys for abortion providers, the federal government and Texas over the state’s controversial abortion law. According to the Texas Tribune, the justices’ line of questioning signaled support for one of the cases and skepticism for the other.
Conservative Justices Amy Coney Barrett and Brett Kavanaugh were unconvinced by the defendability of Texas’ unique enforcement mechanism.
“There’s a loophole that’s been exploited here or used here,” Kavanaugh said. “It could be free speech rights. It could be free exercise of religion rights. It could be Second Amendment rights, if this position is accepted here.”
One of the plaintiffs in the case – Marsha Jones is the executive director of The Afiya Center, an advocacy group for Black Texans’ reproductive rights. According to Jones, the ruling is a “beacon of hope for Texans continuing to fight against this cruel and unconstitutional near-total abortion ban.”
“Even if this ban is eventually permanently blocked, there’s so much work still to be done to ensure that Black communities actually have the ability to grow the families we want … We need our lawmakers to take action.”