By Isabel Pulgarin
Abortion rights took center stage in America this September with both opponents and proponents looking to come out on top.
First, on Sept. 1, a new Texas law called the “Heartbeat Act” took effect after a Supreme Court vote made abortions illegal when any fetal cardiac activity can be captured by an ultrasound machine. This is typically around six weeks after a person’s last menstrual period.
But the enforcement of this law is like no other: anyone in the country can privately sue anyone in Texas who “aids and abets” someone who violates this law. The plaintiff can be awarded a minimum of $10,000 if they win.
Barry history professor, Sarah Riva, said one of the reasons that it is such a powerful law is because it is giving power to civilians to enforce it.
“Republicans are being really crafty in how they have created this law,” said Riva. “What Texas has done with their abortion law is that they have made it so that civilians can sue providers of abortions, people who get abortions, [and] uber drivers or taxi drivers.”
After the law took effect, San Antonio OB/ GYN Dr. Alan Braid admitted in an op-ed for The Washington Post on September 18 that he — motivated by his “duty of care” — had performed an abortion for a patient five days after the law was instated. He was later served after two days with at least two lawsuits from two disbarred lawyers out of Arkansas and Illinois.
“I have daughters, granddaughters and nieces. I believe abortion is an essential part of health care... I can’t just sit back and watch us return to 1972,” wrote Dr. Braid in his article.
Braid was referencing the famous 1973 Supreme Court case, Roe vs. Wade, which guaranteed women the right to have an abortion before fetal viability or before “the fetus” can survive outside the womb, up to about 22 or 24 weeks of pregnancy.
The Heartbeat Act uses the term “unborn child” as a part of the definition for an abortion.
Similarly, and just weeks later, Florida State Representative Webster Barnaby introduced an abortion bill on Sept. 22 that is currently working its way through House subcommittees. This bill also seeks to prohibit physicians from conducting abortions once a “fetal heartbeat” is detected around six weeks.
In an analysis by The Miami Herald comparing the two pieces of legislation, the Texas law only has an exception for medical emergencies, meanwhile the Florida bill has exceptions for incest, rape, domestic violence, human trafficking or medical emergencies and life-threatening conditions, though all require proper documentation as evidence.
“I am disgusted with the Texas abortion ban,” said sophomore political science major and CCSI Civic Health Fellow Skyler Smith. “The detail of the bill that bans abortions particularly as early as 6 weeks and that it doesn’t have any exceptions for rape or incest, shows that they are setting these women up for failure.” As for the Florida bill, Smith said, “I am hoping that the Florida representatives decide not to go through with this bill, it’s unfair that a man gets to decide what a woman can and cannot do with their body.”
According to an interview with The New York Times, Vice Chair of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the University of California, San Francisco, Dana R. Gossett said she often sees patients “who don’t realize they are pregnant until after the six-week mark,” when symptoms of nausea and fatigue set in typically.
Six weeks is two weeks late on your period.
Normal women with irregular menstrual cycles might find knowing they’re pregnant “especially challenging” as well, said Gossett.
Texans have been described as being “in crisis” since the new law took effect.
Women seeking abortions with privileges have had to travel “hundreds of miles” out of state while those without the means to travel have had to resort to either carrying the pregnancy to term or inducing an abortion without the proper medical assistance.
For years, many women have resorted to crossing the Mexico-Texas border to obtain medication prescribed for abortions, according to the Associated Press. This may now become a norm as Mexico’s high court decriminalized abortions across the country on Sept. 7.
At the Supreme Court on Dec. 1, there will be a ruling on a test case from Mississippi, Dobbs v. Jackson, over its abortion ban after 15 weeks, before fetal viability. This case will determine whether all state abortion laws introduced and passed are unconstitutional. Another case in the court’s bracket this term, heard on Oct. 12, is a defense of a Kentucky law that would ban a standard abortion method.
“[The Texas law] is an indirect contradiction to Roe vs. Wade and that established law,” said Riva. “We have six conservative judges and three liberal judges, so it’s going to be a question of how they value law that is already established."
On Oct. 6, U.S. District Judge Robert Pitman temporarily blocked the enforcement of Texas’ law per the request of the Justice Department, though most doctors still fear being sued as this ruling isn’t permanent, pending a state’s appeal on Pitman’s ruling. But soon after on Oct. 8, the 5th Circuit U.S.
Court of Appeals decided to temporarily resume the law in an “administrative stay” while the court waited to decide on a longer hold of the law after discourse on Oct. 12 until the decision of a larger state appeal.
The Miami County Right to Life Society is a pro-life non-profit dedicated to [promoting] and [defending] the right to life of all innocent human beings from the time of fertilization until natural death by eliminating practices such as abortion. Featured in their August/September newsletter was an article written by Star Parker, the president of the Center for Urban Renewal and Education, who believes that overturning Roe v. Wade through this Mississippi decision will restore the American family and the sanctity of life; the code in Christianity that describes human life as a sacred, holy and precious gift that is being violated by a “woman’s alleged right to destroy the child,” according to Parker.
“It is hard to believe that in our nation today, when there is so much outrage about racism, many of those who see racism as a problem do not see indifference to the sanctity of life as a problem. It is no accident that following the Roe v. Wade decision in 1973, we have seen a collapse of the American family and now the general collapse of birth itself,” said Parker.
Meanwhile, in the next legislative session in October, the Senate will debate and vote on a new bill --the Women’s Health Protection Act. It passed in the House by strict partisan lines set to systemize the provisions of Roe vs. Wade.
“I can’t say I’m hopeful about the passage of that House bill into law, considering the even split of party lines in the Senate and the possibility of the bill being filibustered off the floor,” said Riva.