Texas Takes Us One Step Further

There is a great quote from Jurassic Park where Ian Malcolm says, “Man, do I hate being right all the time”. Women, I’m sure, feel that quote deeply today. After all, it is women that have been sounding the alarms regarding the protections afforded by Roe v. Wade. When Donald Trump was elected, women took to the streets to say they were not going back to the past. Women lined up for IUDs so that they knew they would be protected. They were called hysterical and made to feel they were overreacting. Gaslighting came from all sides.

Then came the first appointment: Neil Gorsuch. Women, again, sounded alarms making the point that he was no protector of Roe. His name was at the top of the Federalist Society’s list, and his conservative background illustrated his beliefs clearly.

Then, Anthony Kennedy retired unexpectedly, and here was Brett Kavanaugh. We all know his story now. We’ve seen the testimony, or we’ve at least seen the Matt Damon version on SNL. It is funny. Until it’s not. He certainly wasn’t going to stand up for women.

The worst possible thing happened in the early fall of 2020. Ruth Bader Ginsburg, long a champion of bodily autonomy for women, died. It looked like there might be some reprieve, as it was just weeks away from the election. But, alas, Mitch McConnell (he of the “no justices in an election year” philosophy) rammed through the appointment of Amy Coney Barrett. In her Congressional hearings, like most potential justices, she failed to commit either way to Roe vs. Wade. However, her life prior to this hearing showed hostility. She would also not take up the mantle to protect this precedent.

I wrote this just a few years ago in a Medium article about Alabama’s challenges to Roe v. Wade: “They know that the cases will make it to the Supreme Court, and conservative justices might just overturn Roe. That’s the goal. The question still stands: why? It doesn’t seem politically popular, based on the numbers. However, it is critical for certain special interest groups, and those groups are more rabid about this issue than any other. More and more, we are watching our democracy fall into the hands of very few, and if the few control everything, it won’t matter what is politically popular. And what happens then?”

Well, now we know. And, in the end, the Supreme Court didn’t even have to overturn Roe. They just had to care so little and refuse to take up any defense at all. By relying on the shadow docket, the justices could do nothing and claim that they didn’t gut Roe. It’s great for downplaying a politically unpopular move.

How unpopular is it? Almost 60% of Americans believe abortion should be legal in some form. 7 in 10 believe Roe should not be overturned. I’m sure many would come back to me and say it wasn’t overturned, but it’s being chipped away piece by piece in an effort to desensitize what this effectively means.

Let’s review the new Texas law: it prohibits abortions after 6 weeks. Any abortions. Rape and incest are no longer exceptions. Most women have no idea they are pregnant at 6 weeks; 4.5 weeks is really the threshold where a test will show up as positive. The law goes one step further though. It gives private citizens the power to sue anyone they believe has helped another person get an abortion. This brings up some real ethical gray areas; how do you define “help” in this scenario? Also, it’s worth noting that if Texas has money for these “bounties”, they probably could provide more access to services and methods that prevent abortions. According to the Center for Reproductive Rights, this law will cut about 85% of the abortions in Texas.

It shouldn’t be up to women to pour themselves out to defend a Supreme Court precedent, but they have. As this happens, it’s important to note that many of the preconceived notions we have about abortion are incorrect. We hear all the time that women who get abortions are reckless, irresponsible, or just plain promiscuous, but when we dig into the data, a very different picture emerges. 59% of women who have an abortion are already mothers. When asked about their reasons, they often say they are looking out for the well-being of their other child or children. Fewer than 12% of women seeking an abortion are under the age of 20. 75 percent of women who obtain abortions already have incomes less than 200 percent of the federal policy level. So, the people seeking abortions are not what is often portrayed on television and in movies. They are often parents that simply cannot handle another child and need the choice to do what’s best for their families.

If the Texas legislature really cared about preventing abortion, they might do more to provide access to affordable birth control. That, after all, is the most effective way to reduce those numbers. Or, they might decide to offer a more cumulative sex education that gives teens more options. Instead, they have chosen punishment above all else.

By not taking up the case, the Supreme Court didn’t have to face the many ways this law violates the tenets established in Roe and reestablished in Casey vs. Planned Parenthood. So, it ends not with a bang but with a whimper.

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Jennifer Graham

Jennifer Graham

Sociologist. Writer. Observer. Explorer.