Almost a year after the Supreme Court struck down Texas’s House Bill 2, which regulated things like dimensions and qualifications of health-care providers at abortion clinics in the state, Texas lawmakers are still determined to restrict women’s access to abortion. In recent months they’ve introduced a slew of new anti-abortion legislation, and late Tuesday one of those bills was signed into law: Senate Bill 8, or the “Pre-Born Protection and Dignity Act.” It’s the most sweeping anti-abortion bill in Texas since House Bill 2, which women’s rights groups are already preparing to challenge in court. Here’s what you need to know.
What’s in the bill? Senate Bill 8 was originally filed by State Senator Charles Schwertner, but as the San Antonio Current points out, by the time it reached Governor Greg Abbott’s desk, it looked a lot different. Schwertner’s original bill was meant to prevent women who got abortions from donating the fetal tissue for scientific research. But as it gained traction and other, similar bills waited to be heard in committee, lawmakers began to tack their own provisions onto SB8. In its final form, it’s a 12-page bill that does four main things: (1) requires fetal remains to be cremated or buried; (2) bans the sale of fetal tissue; (3) prohibits dilation and extraction (D&X) or “partial-birth” abortions; and (4) bans dilation and evacuation (D&E) abortions.
So how does that impact women? Well, two of the measures in the bill — the D&X abortion ban and the ban on the sale of fetal tissue — are just lawmakers beating their anti-choice drums. Federal law already forbids the sale of fetal tissue, and “partial-birth” abortions were outlawed more than a decade ago. The provision requiring women to bury or cremate fetal remains if they get an abortion is more a shaming tactic than anything — it’s designed to imbue the fetus with “personhood,” which is a common pro-life tactic. It’s the last provision — the ban on D&E abortions — that’s most concerning. Dubbed “dismemberment abortions” by pro-life activists, the method is one of the safest and most common for second-trimester abortions. What’s more, the bill makes no exceptions in the case of rape or incest, meaning victims of either would be forced to carry their pregnancies to term. The ban would only be waived in the case of a “medical emergency.”
Amanda Williams, the director the Lilith Fund — a nonprofit group that helps low-income women pay for abortions — told the Current that low-income women are most likely to pay the price for the new law. As she told the paper, many women can’t scrape together the funds in time for a first-trimester abortion, which ranges from $500 to $1,500 in Texas. So they’re forced to wait until the second trimester, when the D&E method is most commonly used. “Our main concern is that this could completely push abortion out of reach,” she said.
Does that mean people could go to jail for getting or performing D&E abortions? Getting, no; performing, yes. Under the law, women can’t be prosecuted for getting D&E abortions. However, doctors who perform D&E abortions could face up to two years in prison, and although some lawmakers feared SB8 could criminalize anyone remotely involved in the procedure (including, say, the person who drove the woman to the clinic) the D&E ban specifies that “an employee or agent acting under the direction of a physician … or a person who fills a prescription or provides equipment” can’t be charged for their involvement.
Blake Rocap, legal counsel for NARAL Pro-Choice Texas, told the Observer they’re “[worried] about rogue or malicious prosecutors. The point of this bill isn’t smart criminal justice,” he added. “It’s targeted prosecution of people who want to help women access health care.”
How are pro-choice advocates reacting to this? Heather Busby, executive director at NARAL Pro-Choice Texas, called the law “dangerous” and “in complete disregard for previous court rulings,” and the Center for Reproductive Rights, which spearheaded the case against HB2, has already called for Abbot to veto the bill, calling it “medically unsound.” What’s more, they’re prepared to challenge the bill in court.
In broader terms, SB8 seems to be a sort of litmus test for pro-lifers under President Trump — with the Supreme Court in flux, laws such as this one could represent a chance to shift constitutional rulings on abortion in their direction.