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Criminalizing Choice

June 2, 2021

On April 30, 2021, the Guttmacher Institute reported that 2021 might see “the most damaging anti-abortion state legislative session in a decade—and perhaps ever.” As of April 29, Guttmacher tallied 536 abortion restrictions, including 146 abortion bans. When compared to 2011—which, with 42 restrictions and 6 bans, was the year previously thought to be “the most hostile to abortion rights” since the 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling—this volume is all the more terrifying. In just 10 years, restrictions and bans have multiplied astronomically.  

The data certainly speaks to the draconian nature of abortion access in this country: abortion rights are under relentless, vicious attack. Just a few weeks after Guttmacher published their policy analysis, one of the restrictions made headlines. On May 19, 2021, Governor Greg Abbott (R-TX) signed Senate Bill 8 (SB 8). With a stroke of a pen, Gov. Abbott made one of the most extreme anti-abortion bills in U.S. history a law. 

Elizabeth Nolan Brown explains that SB 8’s “main tacks are twofold”: 1) it seeks to ban abortion after the presence of a “fetal heartbeat”; and 2) it allows “almost anyone who thinks an abortion has taken place outside these parameters to sue.” While Texas cannot enforce the “fetal heartbeat” provision under Roe v. Wade, which prohibits state officials from banning abortions before “viability,” Mark Joseph Stern notes that SB 8 emboldens private citizens to “terrify and punish patients by bankrupting those who support them.” In other words, SB 8 creates pro-life vigilantes.

The “vigilante” need not have any connection to the parties, nor must they live in Texas, nor do they have to limit their target to abortion providers. (Jessica Corbett states that the target can’t be the person getting an abortion or “an officer or employee of a state or local government agency.) This means that in Texas, anyone who “aids and abets” an abortion—from someone driving a friend to a clinic to an individual who pays for the abortion—can face a civil lawsuit. 

We at the Woodhull Freedom Foundation are infuriated by SB 8. We know that to achieve and enjoy sexual freedom, people need access to quality healthcare, including abortion. SB 8, like all anti-abortion efforts, is a violation of our fundamental human right to make decisions about our bodies and futures.

(Pool/Getty Images)

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