VOICES

After Texas six-week abortion ban, I'm done compromising with anti-choice extremists

Let’s call it what it is: This is an assault on women, their bodies, their decision-making, their freedom and their autonomy. This is Gilead.

Jessica Waters
Opinion contributor

In 2016, I gave a TEDx Talk, “Changing the Reproductive Rights Conversation.”  At the time, I spoke about needing to “change the conversation” around abortion.

I advocated that we needed to recognize that people of good conscience and strong faith and deep morality can come to very different decisions on the question of abortion. I spoke about the need for true consideration of other views, without demonizing, without fear. I noted my deep and long-standing commitment to protecting women’s reproductive decision-making. 

I acknowledged that I held those staunchly pro-choice views, and that when I looked at the six-week ultrasounds of my (now 14- and 9-year-old) boys, I immediately thought, “That’s my baby.” I noted that almost 60% of the women who choose abortion are already mothers.

I advocated that there was room for reasonable people of good conscience to find a space to be brave and acknowledge the complexity of the abortion decision.

Today, after the Supreme Court’s decision declining to block a Texas law banning abortions after six weeks of pregnancy, I’m done.

Neighbors, or bounty hunters?

As a woman, a mother and a scholar of reproductive rights law, I’m done, Texas, and all those who don’t condemn the law that will lead to 85% of women in Texas not being able to access safe abortion care in their state. 

I’m done, Supreme Court majority that, in the words of dissenting Justice Sonia Sotomayor, is now a court that has “opted to bury their heads in the sand.”  You are not reasonable. You are not acting in good conscience. You do not care about women. You knowingly endanger women, the expert medical professionals who care for them, and the people who support and love them.

There is no conversation to be had with you. I’m done.

The Supreme Court has allowed a controversial abortion ban in Texas known as the "fetal heartbeat law" to remain in effect.

The Texas law bans abortion at the detection of a heartbeat – that is, roughly six weeks of pregnancy. Attempts at abortion bans are not new; indeed, we’ll see Mississippi’s attempt to ban pre-viability abortions at the Supreme Court this fall. 

What is new is that the Texas law explicitly calls for a civil right of action: that, is, any person can initiate a civil action (a lawsuit) against anyone who provides abortion health care.  Or – in a terrifying but deliberate twist – anyone who “aids or abets” a woman’s abortion decision.

USA TODAY Editorial Board:George Orwell, meet Greg Abbott: Texas abortion law is an un-American infringement of rights

In layman’s terms? The law calls for private citizens to report anyone who helps a woman get an abortion, to make sure that they are punished. And private citizens can initiate that knowing that the courts will deliver a $10,000 bounty or more for reporting people who help women.

As Sotomayor wrote, “Texas Legislature has deputized the State’s citizens as bounty hunters, offering them cash prizes for civilly prosecuting their neighbors’ medical procedures.”

Jessica Waters in the Summer of 2015 in Washington, D.C.

Let’s be clear: The person who aids or abets a woman seeking an abortion is the person who sits at the front desk of a clinic; the person or entity that provides insurance for abortion coverage; the nonprofit that provides funding for women who need – yes, need – abortion care; the counselor, friend, husband or partner who drives a woman to an abortion appointment; and the parent who is helping their daughter make the decision that is right for her.

An incitement to violence

Did I say that the law “allows”? Sorry, that’s 2016 me. I mean incites. Because make no mistake: This law is an incitement to violence. 

It incites – to the tune of $10,000 – anti-choice extremists to stalk and harass abortion providers (not a new tactic, to be clear). It incites anti-choice extremists to harass women. It forces women to travel to other states to obtain safe abortion care – in Texas that’s a 20-fold driving increase, according to the Guttmacher Institute  – pushing abortion procedures later in pregnancy, when risks increase.

And for the record, abortion remains far safer according to some studies than childbirth for all women, and childbirth morbidity and mortality outcomes can be terrifying, particularly for women of color. 

Many have written that the Texas law is a challenge to basic constitutional freedoms and is an assault on a functioning legal system and democracy. Surely it is.

But let’s call it what it is: This is an assault on women, their bodies, their decision-making, their freedom and their autonomy. This is a state-sanctioned assault on women. This is state-sanctioned incitement to violence against women. This is state-sanctioned vigilante “justice.” This is Gilead.

And I’m done.

Jessica Waters is the dean for Undergraduate Education and a faculty member in the School of Public Affairs at American University. Her research focuses primarily on reproductive rights law.