This ban is one of the strictest of its kind. It bans abortion in Texas (the second largest state by population and geographical area) after approximately six weeks—before many people even know they are pregnant. To put this into perspective, for an individual with a regular menstrual cycle, that leaves merely two weeks after a missed period to purchase a test to confirm suspicion, evaluate options and seek out medical care, make the decision, obtain an ultrasound (if in a state that requires one first), request time off from work, find childcare, and travel. And did you know? Nearly 90 percent of U.S. counties have no abortion provider (estimates from 2017 provided by the Guttmacher Institute1)! All these steps require time and money, putting those from a lower socioeconomic status at an even greater disadvantage. The practice of traveling to other states for abortion procedures has increased with the passage of restrictive laws like S.B. 8. States like New York, which have codified Roe v. Wade into state law, are ramping up efforts to meet the increased demand from out-of-state patients.
A particularly horrifying aspect of S.B. 8 is that there are no exceptions for sexual assault, congenital fetal anomalies, or incest (not that a pregnant individual requires a reason arbitrarily deemed justifiable by others to seek out an abortion anyway). Beyond that, S.B. 8 deputizes ordinary citizens to act as abortion bounty hunters to enforce the law—it entices individuals to sue anyone performing or aiding an individual seeking an abortion, even insurers, by offering a $10,000 reward to those who win their lawsuit.
Lawsuits have been filed by abortion providers as well as the U.S. Department of Justice, but to no avail as the law strategically spares state officials from enforcing the law and instead places that duty unto citizens. And although Federal District Judge Robert L. Pitman blocked the state of Texas from enforcing the law in October 2021, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit reinstated the law merely two days later2. So, although its constitutionality has been questioned and debated, S.B. 8 remains in effect to this day.
Let us be clear: Abortion bans do not stop abortions – they stop safe abortions and restrict health care to those who are wealthy and powerful enough to obtain it. Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) communities, members of the LGBTQ+ community, people with disabilities, lower income communities, and other marginalized groups are particularly vulnerable to restrictive abortion laws. Indigenous and immigrant communities, already facing economic and logistical obstacles, will be especially affected by S.B. 8. Immigration policies continue to be a threat for those in need of reproductive services – or health care in general for that matter. Research has shown that a higher proportion of immigrants seeking abortion care did not have health insurance and had family incomes below the Federal Poverty Line3. Additionally, immigrants outside of metropolitan areas lacked the resources required to travel for care3. Language barriers aside, inadequate access to and knowledge of abortion services will only be compounded by the need for transportation and more funding that S.B. 8 requires.
Abortion rights face another serious threat: the pending Supreme Court case Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization. This case is a direct attack by the state of Mississippi on the legal precedent set by Roe v. Wade, aiming to ban abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy. If the Supreme Court rules in favor of the state of Mississippi, Roe v. Wade would be effectively overturned. The Guttmacher Institute estimates that should Roe v. Wade be overturned, nearly half of U.S. states would likely move to ban abortions.
So, what can be done to fight back against S.B. 8 and similar restrictions? The Women’s Health Protection Act (WHPA of 2021, HR 3755), passed by the House of Representatives in late September 2021, aims to provide federal protection from restrictive state laws, and codify Roe v. Wade. Initially introduced as HR 3471 in 2013, the act has yet to pass the Senate. The WHPA would create a right for patients to receive abortion free from restrictions and a right for providers to provide those services.
On the individual level, we can donate or volunteer time to abortion funds – a critical part of our nation’s abortion infrastructure. Abortion funds provide financial and practical support to folks seeking an abortion. Here are some good groups to support:
- New York Abortion Access Fund | Connecting Rights to Resources (nyaaf.org)
- Need help paying for an abortion? – National Network of Abortion Funds
- Donate to Abortion Funds and Pro-Choice Groups — Donate via AB Charities (actblue.com)
- Fund Texas Choice | We fund Texans’ travel to abortion clinics.
- These Puzzles Fund Abortion Too
- Jones RK, Witwer E and Jerman J, Abortion Incidence and Service Availability in the United States, 2017, New York: Guttmacher Institute, 2019, https://www.guttmacher.org/report/abortion-incidence-service-availability-us-2017.
- Sneed, Tierney (October 6, 2021). “Federal judge issues order blocking Texas’ 6-week abortion ban”. CNN. Retrieved October 6, 2021.
- Desai, Sheila et al. “Characteristics of Immigrants Obtaining Abortions and Comparison with U.S.-Born Individuals.” Journal of women’s health (2002) vol. 28,11 (2019): 1505-1512. doi:10.1089/jwh.2018.7547
- Infographic: https://www.guttmacher.org/infographic/2021/if-us-supreme-court-overturns-or-guts-roe-v-wade-26-states-are-certain-or-likely