On Dec. 10, the Supreme Court upheld the enforcement mechanism Texas SB 8, which effectively bans abortions in the state of Texas. SB 8 enables citizens to sue anyone who performs or aids in an abortion, a tactic that has been likened to collecting bounties on abortion providers.
The court’s decision coincides with the approaching 100-day mark for the law’s enforcement, which has disrupted large swaths of healthcare infrastructure and brought increased misery to working-class women seeking abortion. It has had a ripple effect across the region as patients seeking abortion apply in record numbers to clinics in neighboring states.
SB 8 creates a devastating ripple effect across the entire region
Even prior to SB 8, abortion in Texas was a convoluted, expensive process, especially for working-class patients. By 2019, only 22 abortion clinics remained: 1 per every 12,200 square miles and 1.3 million residents on average.
To cover the expensive costs of travel and procedures, organizations like the Texas Equal Access Fund provide support for working-class people. TEA Fund Communications Director Denise Rodriguez identified the barriers in place prior to SB 8:
- A forced 24-hour waiting period after state-mandated biased counseling, which forces patients to make two trips to the clinic and increases their financial burden
- Bans on both public and private insurance coverage for abortion procedures
- A ban on the use of telemedicine for abortion
- No paid sick leave
- Traveling sometimes over 300 miles within the state to access care
- Childcare costs and expenses
- Parental consent requirement for young Texans
- Misinformation and stigma, including 42% of Texas voters not knowing that abortion is legal
- Bans on abortions past 20 weeks
“A lot of the restrictions that were in place before SB 8 was already forcing people to travel out of state,” said Rodriguez, often as far away as Maryland, Oregon, or California. “People can’t access care in their own state and have to struggle to get an appointment, money, time off, childcare, and everything else associated with having to travel to another state for medical care, which just is not possible for everyone who needs an abortion.”
“This law puts TEA Fund at risk because it allows anti-abortion extremists to harrass our organization, our staff, and volunteers with frivoulous lawsuits,” said Rodriguez.
Whole Women’s Health, which operates four abortion clinics in Texas, is reportedly operating at less than 30% of its income. Many physicians are dropping out of abortion care in anticipation of an overturning of Roe v. Wade, which legalized abortion in 1973.
“By allowing SB 8 to remain in effect, the Supreme Court has made it exceptionally dangerous to be a person in Texas who can get pregnant, and nearly impossible to be an OB-GYN delivering full-spectrum reproductive care to patients,” explained Jessica Pieklo, Senior Vice President of Rewire News Group and co-host of the podcast Boom! Lawyered.
The assault against women and reproductive rights has also affected other forms of healthcare, especially for working-class women, Black and Brown people, disabled people, rural Texans and LGBTQ people. Marissa Rodriguez, an organizer for abortion rights in Dallas, detailed her own struggles.
“I don’t have health insurance anymore because it is cost prohibitive, not to mention extremely confusing,” said Rodriguez. “As a result, the [reproductive system-related] health issues I contend with are untreated, or else I attempt to treat myself with more accessible supplements and what essentially amounts to ‘old wive’s tale’-style advice.”
“If I could afford to see multiple doctors without the risk of being fat or body shamed, I am certain I could avoid complications in the coming years that my family members have faced in their own lives,” Rodriguez continued.
Those needing abortion or even pregnancy-related healthcare are now being forced to travel hundreds of miles, far out of the state, or resort to highly dangerous self-administered procedures.
“Already we are hearing reported stories of patients traveling to New Mexico to deal with a potentially lethal ectopic pregnancy, to clinics in neighboring states like Oklahoma and Kansas struggling to accommodate patients in their own states as they also treat Texas, with wait times to get an abortion as long as six weeks at some clinics,” said Pieklo.
“[Some patients] will not be able to access care, some will have medical emergencies as a result of the limitations on providers thanks to SB8, and others will find ways to manage their own abortion despite the very real legal risks involved there.”
If abortion clinics such as Planned Parenthood close, it will affect the availability of other healthcare offerings. This would include gender-affirming care for trans and non-binary people, STD services, pregnancy assistance, fertility services, pelvic exams, cancer screenings, and a range of other common practices.
U.S. nears a flashpoint on abortion rights
In just 100 days, SB 8 has criminalized 85% to 90% of abortions in the state, while forcing severe backlogs onto the underfunded reproductive care systems of neighboring states.
By refusing to strike down the law and taking up a similar case over an abortion ban in Mississippi, the Supreme Court could be moving to strike down Roe v. Wade itself.
Public support for abortion ranges from 60% to 80%. A strong majority of people support abortion in most or all cases, and will not accept a return to stigma and dangerous, unsanitary, self-administered procedures. If the Supreme Court overturns Roe, it will expose the reactionary nature of the institution itself.
“My hope is that people would understand the Supreme Court to be a partisan body, not just a political one,” said Pieklo. “The Supreme Court has ALWAYS been political but [the current court is] moving toward clearly partisan ends that clearly benefit the most conservative interests in this country.”
Even if Roe is not overturned next summer, the status quo is not satisfactory to defend against the right-wing offensive. A first step would be codifying abortion rights into federal law through the Women’s Health Protection Act. This would legalize abortion rights federally and move toward equal access to abortion for the most vulnerable.
“Codifying abortion rights in federal legislation could be one answer — if Democrats could get anything passed,” explained Pieklo. “However any federal legislation will face immediate legal challenge by the anti-choice movement and eventually land before the Roberts Court.” Pieklo believes that any conversation around a federal response to a Roe reversal must happen in conjunction with ending the filibuster and unpacking federal courts. “But I need to be very clear that there is no quick fix to this.”
To defend and expand abortion rights, Marissa Rodriguez said, organizers are working to “inject this moment with working-class solidarity and solutions that go beyond ‘vote blue.'”
Historically, the Supreme Court has been the last line of defense for the ruling class against progressive change. But this extremely undemocratic institution responds to public pressure, as it did in the upsurge of mass organizing in the 1960s and 70s.
Organizers in Texas are not waiting for the Supreme Court to make the “right” ruling next summer. They don’t have the luxury of time to wait for more election cycles in hopes that better justices might be appointed, or better senators might be elected. They are working right now to build the mass struggle that can pressure both the Democratic-controlled Congress and Presidency, as well as the hyper-reactionary Supreme Court, to guarantee abortion access for all.
“With historic moments like the ongoing COVID-19 crisis, a wave of labor strikes and struggles, as well as increased climate catastrophe, working class people are understanding more and more that the two-party system is in no way a means to solving any of these problems,” said Rodriguez.
“We are working to build coalitions and raise consciousness at every turn, with rallies, speak outs, petitions and study groups.”
The PSL is circulating a nationwide petition to demand that Congress pass the Women’s Health Protection Act. We are asking people to sign here. The TEA Fund can be found at teafund.org and Jessica Pieklo’s analysis can be found at Rewire News Group.