In this article we look at the so-called bounty that Texas has placed on abortion providers in the state and the implications it may have on the world’s view on abortion legislation.
The Texas abortion law
The Texas Abortion Law, also known as the Senate Bill, prohibits abortions before most women are usually even aware of their pregnancy. More specifically, as of September this year, the law prevents women from terminating a pregnancy 6 weeks into said pregnancy. This is further specified to be when a heartbeat is detected in the embryo. Even more shockingly, exceptions are not made for cases of rape and incest, although provisions are made for cases where the mother’s life is in danger. When placed in the context of a women’s menstrual cycle, it will, on average, take a women 4 weeks to realise she has in fact missed her period. This leaves a 2-week window to both decide and arrange an abortion. This also does not take into account irregular periods, which are both common and stand to complicate a woman’s ability to confirm pregnancy in such a short window of time. While abortions are notoriously controversial, surely a consensus can be made as to the traumatic nature of the procedure? This is an enormous decision to come to terms with and implement in just 2 weeks. This leaves no margin for error, nor does it leave time to process and attempt closure. Additionally, most women choosing an abortion, make such a decision due to the pressures in their lives making it difficult for them to envision becoming a parent. By virtue of this reality, this 2-week timer on the decision seems rather ridiculous.
It is then clear that this law presents a significant barrier to women’s healthcare. More than that, it is actually in contradiction to the Supreme Court’s 1973 decision to establish the medical procedure as a constitutional right. In order to circumvent Wade v. Roe, the ban allows anyone suing an abortion provider to gain $10 000 in the settlement. This means the state is not directly enforcing the ban. As such, many are saying that Texas is putting a bounty out on abortions. This also makes Texas the most restrictive of all the states in terms of abortion legislation. While other states have tried to implement similar restrictions, Texas is the first to overcome legal challenges and to implement the law. While we could get deeper into the legalities of Texan law, this article will examine the implications for women throughout the US and global communities.
Who will this law most impact?
According to the Guttmacher Institute, 70% of 2019’s Texan abortions were provided to women of colour. This is a clear majority. It is then intuitive that this law then disproportionately affects women of colour. Those vulnerable members in society largely impacted by the ban also include teenagers, undocumented immigrants, and low-income women. They must somehow find the $550 needed for an abortion- noting that medical aid does not cover such procedures- in this 2-week period. In general, when creating and amending legislation that stands to impact the most vulnerable strata of society, contingencies and measures should be put in place to make sure they are protected. Here, however, we see these women further disempowered with no support in navigating the challenges society has left them with.
The added danger is obviously that abortions after 6 weeks will not stop. They will become illicit transactions. Women will face unsafe surgical environments. Many will face infections, and even death, much like the face of the Texan pro-abortion movement Rosie Jimenez, who died of an infection after an illegal abortion in 1977. They will also face exploitation and be forced to pay even more exorbitant prices. Over and above costs incurred due to having the abortion performed, such as childcare, transport, and unpaid leave, women will now be forced to work harder to receive the medical care they require due to subsequent hikes in prices as the procedure becomes illegal and the doctors incur more risk.
Will there be a domino effect?
The next rather intuitive question then becomes, will Texas trigger a slurry of anti-abortion laws throughout The United States? If this bounty, so-to-speak, becomes socially acceptable throughout Texas, it only stands to reason that there may in fact be a spill-over effect. As other more conservative states see success in the Texan sidestepping of Wade v. Roe, these other states may very well try to adopt the same strategy.
The next step is to consider whether there will be a global trend. In recent years there has been an increase in right-wing support throughout Europe, which has seemed to parallel the Trumpian era in the US. This then sets a precedent of the US and Europe observing similar political trends. We have seen Austria elect its right-wing party, The Freedom Party of Austria, in 2019, Marine Le Pen gain increased popularity in France, and recently Switzerland voting against headscarves in public spaces this very year. These all point towards increasing conservatism throughout Europe. Could this then indicate that there will be increased anti-abortion sentiment?
It is, however, important to also consider the more liberal steps being taken. Speaking of Swiss referendums, same-sex marriage was also legalised this year. Germany has shown an unprecedented level of acceptance of refugees in the past 5 years or so. Scotland’s referendums have kept it in the United Kingdom, in much contrast to Brexit. It is therefore important to remember that especially in this world, most people and therefore nations are not exclusively liberal or conservative. They are rather a melting pot of opinions differing from issue to issue.
What can we predict?
This then then presents the question, what can we prophesise? Honestly, we cannot predict the ramifications for US or international anti-abortion legislation. We can, however, reasonably predict demonstrations and potentially a witch-hunt approach to pro-abortion doctors with the bounty roll-out, as well as the further restricting of women’s autonomy over their own bodies.
Stephanie is the Assistant Editor at the Journal of Political Risk. She has a B.A. in Politics, Philosophy, and Economics and an Honours degree in Justice and Transformation from the University of Cape Town. She is currently pursuing her MPhil in Public Law, focusing on a gendered analysis of transitional justice mechanisms. She has also contributed as a member of the research team for the South African Medical Research Council, focusing on the National Health Insurance bill.