On Jan. 22, 1973, the United States Supreme Court made possibly one of its most critical and controversial decisions in the last 50 years. A woman by the name of Jane Roe wanted to terminate her pregnancy, but she was blocked by the state of Texas’s abortion ban. Attorneys challenged the law, and, in a 7-2 ruling, the Supreme Court declared it to be unconstitutional, as the law violated a woman’s fundamental right to privacy. The result of Roe v. Wade set this country’s abortion precedent and has remained the law of the land since.
But as of Sept. 1, Texas Governor Greg Abbott has successfully sidestepped that precedent with Senate Bill 8 (S.B.8), which effectively implements a ban on abortions past six weeks – before most women even know that they are pregnant – and with no exception for rape or incest.
Perhaps the most pernicious aspect of the law is that it is specifically designed to circumvent the normal mode of objecting to an abortion ban. Instead of the law being enforced by government officials, S.B.8 grants private citizens the power to sue anyone who helps a woman obtain an abortion or “intends” to take future action. Anyone from healthcare providers, to those contemplating donating to an abortion fund, to Uber drivers are subject to lawsuits.
Residents of other states are also granted this power and can take legal action against anyone who aids a Texas citizen in getting an abortion. Successful plaintiffs are reimbursed for their legal fees, and the defendant must pay a minimum of $10,000 to the plaintiff.
When S.B.8 reached the Supreme Court, the justices ruled in an emergency appeal 5-4 in the favor of the state of Texas. Dubiously, the Supreme Court refused to determine the constitutionality of the bill, stating that their job is not to block laws, but rather to prevent laws from being enforced by officials.
Justice Sonia Sotomayor, a part of the minority rule, was rightfully enraged with the lack of action. “Presented with an application to enjoin a flagrantly unconstitutional law engineered to prohibit women from exercising their constitutional rights and evade judicial scrutiny, a majority of justices have opted to bury their heads in the sand,” she said in her dissent.
Luckily, there is still hope. The Biden administration’s Department of Justice elected to take action and sued the state of Texas. On Sept. 9, Attorney General Merrick Garland announced the lawsuit in a press conference. “The act is clearly unconstitutional under long-standing Supreme Court precedent,” Garland said. Hopefully, this intervention is enough to protect the nation’s most restrictive and disgusting abortion ban from remaining in place.
No matter the outcome of the lawsuit, it is probable that the losing side will appeal, and the constitutionality of abortion will likely be in question once again when it reaches the Supreme Court, where the threatening 6-3 Republican majority looms. In this scenario, the six Republican justices are positioned to hold the country hostage, despite being the minority; a recent poll showed that 67% of adults are still in support of upholding Roe v. Wade, and this data has remained largely consistent with years past.
The Texas abortion ban has also set the stage for other states like Florida to follow suit with their own restrictive abortion laws; it is abundantly clear that the freedom and right to healthcare for women across the country is under attack.
However, there is little time for despair. Organizations like the American Civil Liberties Union and representatives like Democratic Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez continue to raise awareness and money for grassroots pro-choice organizations and legal funds. Now, more than ever, it is time to take action and fight to hold onto our rights.