On May 19, Gov. Greg Abbott (R-TX) signed a law that bans abortions after six weeks, before most people even know they are pregnant. The law is extreme, allowing private citizens to enforce it.
According to Senate Bill 8, there is a bounty on the heads of anyone seeking an abortion. Anyone reporting an abortion can receive a reward from the state: a minimum of $10,000. Adding a bounty to the law is reminiscent of slave bounties in the 18th and 19th centuries.
ACLU PA wrote: “SB 8 authorizes any person anywhere to sue a person who performed, aided and abetted, or intended to aid and abet an abortion in violation of the ban. That means that anyone — even someone unconnected to the person having the abortion — can try to dismantle abortion support networks by suing abortion providers and those who assist them, or even sue to try to stop the abortion and prevent the health care center from providing abortion care after approximately six weeks. The law also authorizes a significant bounty: a minimum of $10,000 in damages paid to the person who brought the lawsuit, if they are successful.”
The Texas law was scheduled to take effect September 1. An emergency request to stop it came before the U.S. Supreme Court on Sept. 1. But in a 5-4 vote just before midnight on Sept. 1, the court voted to let the Texas law go forward.
Chief Justice John Roberts sided with the three liberal justices, Stephen Breyer, Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor. Sotomayor wrote a scathing dissent. Three of the five conservative votes in support of the Texas law were put on the court by Donald Trump: Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett.
The majority opinion — a single, long paragraph — was unsigned. It said the abortion providers who had challenged the law in an emergency application to the court had not proved their case “in the face of complex and novel procedural questions.” The majority insisted that it was not ruling on the constitutionality of the Texas law and did not intend to limit “procedurally proper challenges” to that law.
That disclaimer notwithstanding, the law is now being enforced, and any person who wants an abortion in Texas is impacted.
The Texas law makes no provision for rape or incest. On Sept. 7, Abbott said that “rape is a crime. And Texas will work tirelessly to make sure that we eliminate all rapists from the streets of Texas by aggressively going out and arresting them and prosecuting them and getting them off the streets.”
Yet as PGN reported, only 5 out of every 1,000 rapists is even prosecuted in the U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) told CNN’s Anderson Cooper on Sept. 7, after Abbott’s comments, that the vast majority of rapists are known to their victims — and can include teachers, employers, friends and even family members. Ocasio-Cortez said many rape victims are slow to report and that the Texas law would prevent rape victims from accessing abortion.
The Texas law won’t stop at Texas. As numerous abortion rights advocates explained, other states that have been pushing more restrictive anti-abortion legislation — Pennsylvania among them — will view the Texas law as a template for their own efforts.
Moreover, with the 2022 midterms, abortion — always a leading culture war issue — could radically impact voters. In 2016, many white women voters who chose Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton, 53 percent to 47 percent, cited abortion as their key issue in making that decision. Clinton was too liberal on abortion, they told pollsters.
Pennsylvania was one of the key swing states in the 2020 election and it was Pennsylvania — notably the Philadelphia vote — that decided the election for Joe Biden on Nov. 7. The Republican attempt in Congress to overturn the Pennsylvania vote was part of the cataclysmic events of January 6.
With an open governor’s seat (Democratic incumbent Tom Wolf is term-limited) and an open Senate seat (GOP Sen. Pat Toomey is not running for re-election) Pennsylvania will be a focal point nationally. The abortion question is bound to be central.
Pennsylvania has regularly split between Democrats and Republicans in the governor’s seat over the past 50 years with four Democratic governors and four GOP. If a Republican wins the 2022 election — which is highly likely — can Pennsylvanians expect a law similar to that in Texas?
The short answer is absolutely. The GOP-led Pennsylvania legislature has already voiced their opinion previously. Republicans want abortion ended in Pennsylvania. State Sen. Doug Mastriano (R-Franklin) is the lead sponsor of a fetal heartbeat bill that mirrors the Texas legislation.
“I am obviously very excited and happy about this,” Mastriano told local news outlets after the court’s decision. Mastriano is a likely candidate for governor.
Pennsylvania already has among the most restrictive abortion laws. Republican legislation has already been launched that would ban abortions after a doctor identifies a fetal heartbeat — another six week law. Another bill that passed the legislature in June would prohibit abortions sought solely because of a Down syndrome diagnosis via prenatal testing.
Gov. Wolf has previously vetoed efforts to curtail abortion rights and said after the Supreme Court ruling that he would do so until his term ends.
But Pennsylvanians are already at risk. According to the Guttmacher Institute, in 2019, 85% of Pennsylvania counties had no clinics that provided abortions, and 48% of Pennsylvania women lived in those counties. (There are no available statistics on how many non-binary people live in those same counties, but trans and non-binary people already have significant problems with access to healthcare in the state.)
In Pennsylvania, the following restrictions on abortion were in effect as of January 1, 2021: A patient must receive state-directed counseling that includes information designed to discourage the patient from having an abortion, and then wait 24 hours before the procedure is provided.
Health plans offered in the state’s health exchange under the Affordable Care Act can only cover abortion in cases of life endangerment, or in cases of rape or incest, unless individuals purchase an optional rider at an additional cost.
Abortion is covered in insurance policies for public employees only in cases of life endangerment, rape or incest. The parent of a minor must consent before an abortion is provided, which endangers teens who are victims of rape, incest or who are in the process of transitioning.
Public funding is available for abortion only in cases of life endangerment, rape or incest. An abortion may be performed at 24 or more weeks after the last menstrual period only in cases of life or health endangerment. The state requires abortion clinics to meet unnecessary and burdensome standards related to their physical plant, equipment and staffing.
Abortion rights activists in Pennsylvania are using the Texas law as a voting mandate, asserting that the courts cannot protect reproductive rights because they are stacked with GOP judges.
The risks in Pennsylvania are manifold. While President Biden and Attorney General Merrick Garland have stated their strong opposition to the Texas law, and vowed to find ways to countermand it, the threat is now for Texans and imminent in many other states — including Pennsylvania.
Maintaining the protections for bodily autonomy and privacy inherent in Roe v. Wade is essential, impacting women and LGBTQ people, as laws restricting access to healthcare for LGBTQ people inevitably follow restrictions on women’s rights, as happened under the Trump administration.
Waiting for the federal government to pass national abortion legislation is not optimal. The best defense Pennsylvanians have to contravene a Texas law becoming a Pennsylvania law is to work for a Democratic governor and senator and to retain all seats in the Congress and state legislature.
For information on abortion access in PA, call Planned Parenthood: 215-351-5560 or call Mazzoni Center: 215-563-0652.