On Wednesday, Dec. 1 the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments on potentially overturning Roe V. Wade. What happened? How did we get here? And what does this mean for Texas women?
By Anne Cox, Photo by Manny Becerra
Under the current precedent set by the 1973 verdict in the case of Jane Roe v. Henry Wade, U.S. citizens have a constitutional right to an abortion. Years later in the 1992 case of Robert P. Casey v. Planned Parenthood, that right was upheld with the decision that lawmakers cannot place restrictions on abortion access unless it would cause “undue burden.” Undue burden is defined as a “substantial obstacle in the path of a woman seeking an abortion before the fetus attains viability.”
Many states, including Texas, have restrictions such as a waiting period, parental notification and mandatory sonograms within 24 hours of the abortion.
How Did We Get Here?
To understand what’s happening right now, we first must go back to 2018 when the state of Mississippi passed a law banning abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy. After lower courts ruled against the law, Mississippi lawmakers requested a hearing from the Supreme Court. It is thought that this law was always intended to be “a direct challenge out of Mississippi to Roe v. Wade’s landmark holding that the Constitution provides a right of access to abortion.”
The Supreme Court agreed to take on the Mississippi case back in May and started hearing oral arguments on Wednesday, Dec. 1.
Senate Bill 8
If you’re a uterus owner in the state of Texas, you’re probably familiar with the Texas Abortion Ban (Senate Bill 8). Gov. Gregg Abbott signed Senate Bill 8 into law on May 19, 2021, and it took effect on Sept. 1. This bill, commonly known as “The Fetal Heartbeat Bill,” effectively bans abortions in the state of Texas as soon as a fetal heartbeat can be detected. Typically around the six-week mark.
To put that into perspective, most women do not even know they are pregnant at six weeks. According to a 2018 study, 77% of women seeking abortion care in the state of Texas were more than six weeks pregnant at the time of their first mandatory ultrasound appointment.
The bill also allows any private citizen in Texas or elsewhere to sue an abortion provider or those who “aid and abet” a patient during the process of obtaining an abortion. Including, but not limited to: doctors, medical staff and even the accused’s friends and family. This also can be done without proof of any connection or injury. If they win, they’re entitled to $10,000. (Sec.A171.208.A)
Senate Bill 8 does not explicitly mention exceptions in the event of incest or rape. There are, however, exceptions in the event the physician feels there is a medical emergency. (Sec.A171.205.)
A number of reproductive rights groups requested that the Supreme Court block the bill. Despite their appeals, the court officially denied those requests early on Sept. 2. The court stated that their decision did not determine the constitutionality of SB8. But rather the emergency requests failed to successfully make their case and were denied on a number of procedural issues.
Senate Bill 4
On Thursday, Dec. 2, Senate Bill 4 went into effect. This bill criminalizes the use of abortion-inducing drugs past the seven-week mark. Violators of the bill could face a state jail felony offense.
Read more about the safety and effectiveness medication abortions here.
What Happened in the Oral Arguments?
The Supreme court is currently at a 6-3 majority of conservative justices. Most recently Justice Amy Coney Barratt, who was appointed by former President Donald Trump after the death of reproductive rights advocate Ruth Bader Ginsburg in September 2020.
On Wednesday, Dec. 1, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the case of Thomas E. Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization. This case concerns the constitutionality of the 2018 Mississippi law banning abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy.
Justice Sonia Sotomayor felt that choosing to hear this case put the validity of the Supreme Court in question. “Will this institution survive the stench that this creates in the public perception that the Constitution and its reading are just political acts?” she asked during the hearing last Wednesday.
Other justices, including the three appointed by former President Trump, presented arguments based on the viability line–the ability for a fetus to survive outside of the uterus–fetal interest–described by Justice Kavanaugh as “fetal life”–and adoption.
A common question among the public is whether the Supreme Court will take a longer, incremental approach to restricting abortion or if the courts will overturn Roe v. Wade outright. A decision is expected in late spring or early summer, right before the court typically breaks for recess.
What Does this Mean for Texas Women?
In the event that Roe V. Wade is overturned, many states have trigger laws already in place that would go in effect immediately. Texas’ Senate Bill 8 will officially be constitutional and opens the possibility of an even more restrictive abortion ban being signed into law.
That said, overturning Roe doesn’t ban abortion nationwide, but rather leaves that decision up to individual states. Based on precedence, blue states like California and New York will most likely still provide access to abortion.
In response to these restrictions Planned Parenthood of Greater Texas has taken many steps to provide women with access to safe, legal options.
As Autumn Keiser, the director of communications and marketing at Planned Parenthood of Greater Texas, explains, “We have expanded [our contact center]team to include what we call Patient Navigation. They have become essentially travel agents and help women figure out how to get to Kansas, California, Colorado. How to drive to Oklahoma.”
This team works with patients to help them secure transportation, a place to stay and in some cases childcare to receive out-of-state care.
Planned Parenthood of Greater Texas South Austin has also extended their clinic hours to include weekend appointments. They’ve also expanded access to their preventative care measures by providing free kits that include emergency contraception, early-detection pregnancy tests and condoms.
Keiser notes the women who do make it in time to receive an abortion before six weeks of pregnancy “feel pushed, forced, rushed to make those appointments quickly. They know they are potentially pushing other women out of those slots who need that. Not because there’s not enough appointments, but because there’s not enough time.”
If you are seeking care or know someone who is, click here, here and here to educate yourself on some of the issues facing women and learn more about the resources available to you. Call Planned Parenthood first before pursuing other routes.