The nation’s attention has turned to Texas over the past two weeks after the U.S. Supreme Court permitted a law to go into effect that bans abortion and enables private citizens to enforce the ban against medical professionals and others in a person’s support system who help to facilitate their care.
The law, known as Senate Bill 8, was passed by the Texas legislature and signed by Governor Greg Abbott. It took effect on Sept. 1 after the U.S. Supreme Court refused to block it while challenges against it are proceeding through the courts.
Over the past few weeks, several states have already indicated that they are considering similar laws.
There are a number of helpful resources available explaining SB8 and what it means for the millions of women who live in Texas of reproductive age, as well as resources for people who may be pregnant or need care.
What happened in Texas should be concerning for all people — and especially for people of faith.
The Texas law is unjust and will have a disproportionate negative impact on people with low incomes, adolescents and communities that have been historically marginalized such as communities of color.
Like laws that restrict access to financial resources for people who are in need of care, SB8 will not prevent the privileged from obtaining care; it will prevent those without resources from doing so.
Such brash inequality offends many who ascribe to a number of the world’s faith traditions rooted in justice.
But what happened in Texas should be concerning to people of good faith for other reasons as well – regardless of one’s personal view on abortion.
Some people of faith personally oppose abortion, while others do not. Some faith traditions take official positions that obtaining an abortion and using contraception is a sin; others believe it permitted in their religious faith and, in some cases, required.
In the U.S., a particular religious viewpoint, while relevant to personal moral decisions, does not dictate the rights available to people under the law.
Our legal tradition recognizes a sphere of personal autonomy, privacy and inherent dignity of all people to discern and make deeply personal decisions about the course of their lives without undue governmental restriction or, in the case of Texas, the government’s deputizing private agents to impede such freedoms.
The law in Texas undisputedly restricts access to abortion — to health care that one in four women will need during the course of their life. In so doing, it seeks to impose the moral viewpoint of a particular group of people on all.
Here are the important notes regarding SB8:
- How the law will be interpreted remains to be seen, but it effectively bans most abortions by enabling enforcement at approximately six weeks of pregnancy. This is before most people know they are pregnant.
- SB8 could impede the pastoral care and counseling provided to people. As a result, many clergy members opposed the law in Texas during the legislative session and some have sued to challenge the bill.
- The law serves no medical or patient safety purpose. It has been denounced by the nation’s medical community, including the American Medical Association, the American College of Obstetricians & Gynecologists, the American Academy of Family Physicians, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the Texas Medical Association and the Texas Nurses Association, among many others.
- The Supreme Court has not yet ruled on the constitutionality of the law. Legal challenges by health care providers, abortion funds, individuals and the Department of Justice are pending.
SB8 has some unique elements but the basic intent and effect is to prevent people from seeking abortion, which is health care that one in four women in the United States will need to seek during their lives. It continues a concerning trend.
In 2021 alone, there have already been a record 90 laws passed by state legislatures seeking to ban or restrict abortion care. According to the Guttmacher Institute, the number of restrictions passed already this year is greater than in any year since the Court’s 1973 decision in Roe v. Wade.
This fall, the U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear a challenge to the decades-old precedent in Roe v. Wade, in response to a Mississippi ban that had been blocked by lower courts as a result of its clear unconstitutionality.
Legal experts have written persuasively about how the Texas law sets a particularly dangerous precedent for other freedoms. If the law in Texas stands, then what prevents other laws from going into effect where private citizens or the government would be permitted to force moral and religious views on people?
Yet, perhaps one of the most concerning aspects of what has happened in Texas — and one that should capture the attention of us all — is the silence of many in the days leading up to Sept. 1.
SB8 was moving through the legislature for months before it went into effect. The outrage that many have expressed now that the courts have declined to stop it is far louder than when the bill was being voted on and signed.
What would have happened if more individuals, businesses and communities would have had the courage to speak out earlier in opposition to the bill? Or, if more people would have lent support and community to those who made their voices heard?
And then there’s the courts, which are to serve as a backstop against unconstitutional laws.
What would happen if people of good faith begin to ask our courts – and the people we elect who have the power to appoint judges – why an unconstitutional law that harms people and threatens countless lives and freedoms is presently in effect in Texas?
Only by having the courage to ask, answer and act on these hard questions can we help craft a new and better future.
A lawyer in Washington, DC, Perryman lives with her husband and five-year-old son. She presently serves as president and CEO of Democracy Forward Foundation. The views expressed in this column are her own and not her employers’. She is a member of the Good Faith Media strategic advisory board for news and opinion.