One of the Strictest Abortion Laws in the U.S. Goes Into Effect on Wednesday

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Despite a federal lawsuit from health-care providers and pro-choice agencies, a Texas law banning abortions as early as six weeks is slated to go into effect on Wednesday. Late last week, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals canceled a hearing scheduled for Monday, effectively ending any debate, reports the Texas Tribune. The law makes obtaining an abortion in Texas all but impossible.

With the Texas abortion law looming, reproductive rights advocates vowed to continue to fight for the rights of people to make their own decisions about their health and their bodies. “We are asking the United States Supreme Court to step in and block Texas’s radical abortion ban, S.B. 8, from going into effect on Wednesday,” reads a statement from Planned Parenthood released Monday.

“Texas has been hellbent on legislating abortion out of existence, and it is galling that a federal court would uphold a law that so clearly defies decades of Supreme Court precedent,” said Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights, in a statement published August 18. “At a time when the health care needs of Texans are greater than ever, the state should be making abortion more accessible, not less. There is no question that today’s decision will harm those who already face the greatest barriers to health care.”

Earlier this summer, Whole Woman’s Health, Planned Parenthood, and a network of other supporters, filed suit in July to block SB 8, deeming it “unconstitutional” and a direct violation of Roe v. Wade. The anti-abortion law, which was signed by Gov. Greg Abbott more than three months ago, prohibits women from getting safe, legal abortions as early as the sixth week of pregnancy–a time period in which most women don’t even realize they’re pregnant. Since approximately 90 percent of abortions are performed after the six weeks, it’s amounts to a near total ban of the procedure.

Now, the law will also incentivize Texans to sue anyone who “aids and abets” an abortion. Under SB 8, private citizens can enforce the law, encouraging people–including anti-choice activists–with a $10,000 reward for turning in abortion providers, plus a court order preventing them from providing abortions in the future.

“It’s very extreme–it’s basically putting a bounty on somebody’s head,” Ianthe Metzger, director of state media campaigns for Planned Parenthood, previously told Well+Good. “It’s not the patient being sued. It’s the doctor, it’s the friend who gives them money for the abortion, it’s everybody around them and it creates a culture of isolation and stigmatization, which is this law is so much more dangerous.”

Texas already has stringent legislation in place around reproductive health. Currently, the law requires people who want an abortion to wait 24 hours to make their decision, undergo medically unnecessary ultrasounds, and read discredited information about abortion, explained Autumn Keiser, director of marketing and communications at Planned Parenthood of Greater Texas. The state is also still dealing with the fallout from HB 2, which closed approximately half of the abortion providers in the state when it passed in 2013.

“Despite HB 2 being largely overturned by the US Supreme Court, Texas still has vast regions where patients must drive hundreds of miles to get an abortion,” Keiser previously told Well+Good. “This presents a myriad of logistical and financial barriers to overcome to receive this time-sensitive healthcare. SB 8 would be not only the most extreme abortion law in Texas, but in the nation–shutting down nearly all that remains of abortion access in the state.”

In addition to the law potentially draining clinics of their resources, millions of Texans will be affected–particularly in rural, low-income communities and for people of color.

“We don’t have to guess what the likely impact will be on the lives and health of Texans if SB 8 is allowed to go into effect,” said Keiser. “Last year, Gov. Greg Abbott banned abortion during the first surge of COVID-19 in Texas, essentially creating a health crisis within a health crisis. Texans seeking abortion were forced to either wait for weeks or travel out of state during a pandemic to get an abortion. It was a devastating, chaotic time for patients already grappling with economic uncertainty and fears about their health.

Since the courts denied an emergency motion, it’s unclear how reproductive rights groups are moving forward. “If this law is not blocked by September 1, abortion access in Texas will come to an abrupt stop,” Marc Hearron, senior counsel at the Center for Reproductive Rights, which represents providers, said in a statement.

It seems health-care providers are bracing for the law to go into effect and will comply with the new legal guidelines. Marva Sadler, one of the named plaintiffs in the abortion providers’ lawsuit and senior director of clinical services for Whole Woman’s Health, recently told the Texas Tribune that the court’s decisions make it much more likely SB 8 will go into effect Sept. 1. “I’ve been really focused on how things will look on Wednesday, when we have to start turning most patients away,” the Tribune reported.

Many agencies are sharing resources on social media to combat misinformation on SB 8 and spreading the word that, unless courts intervene, reproductive rights are at stake. To show support, Keiser encouraged pro-choice advocates to follow Planned Parenthood of Greater Texas on Instagram and Twitter for the latest updates on SB 8, including ways you can get involved.

“We also want Texans to know how to prepare should SB 8 go into effect on September 1 and as our litigation progresses through the courts,” said Keiser. Visit ppgreatertx.org/SB8 for the most current guidance on abortion access, health care guidance, and other resources.

If you need to speak with a health-care professional, please contact your nearest Planned Parenthood (even if it’s in a different state) or call 1-800-230-7526.

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