This Saturday morning, a lone man prayed with a rosary in front of a deserted abortion clinic in a northern suburb of Austin, the capital of Texas. “I’m praying that abortions will end in the United States,” said Oscar González, 54, a member of the Catholic 40 Days for Life movement. The man, in gentle ways like those of a southern priest, says he is “happy” with the entry into force of the law that since Wednesday bans abortion from the sixth week of pregnancy in the second most populous state in the country, which has 30 million inhabitants. “It’s amazing. Now we have the Texas heartbeat law [Texas heartbeat, como se chama a norma Senate Bill 8 (S.B. 8) em referência à suposta pulsação do feto]. It’s a demonstration that by controlling language we can advance a lot in this cause”, he adds, smiling.
The clinic in front of which González prays is deserted. These places became the scene of the war that conservatives waged against women’s bodies. On the doorstep of Whole Women’s Health is a sign explaining that “abortion is still legal in Texas.” The organization fought for the Supreme Court to halt its entry into force, but most conservative judges avoided blocking it on Tuesday. “It is one of the most extreme, radical and unfair abortion bans this country has ever seen. The law does not represent the majority of Texans and is simply unconstitutional,” the clinic tells its patients. Along with this communication, another poster prevents entry into the clinic armed, one of the freedoms guaranteed in the State.
Women’s health centers have been organizing for a few days to continue operating while complying with the new law, which is believed to affect between 85% and 90% of abortions performed in Texas. Most of the 35 clinics in the state extended their hours until September 1, the date on which the ban came into effect, to serve more patients. “In some centers they are being offered information about resources in other states to access an abortion,” says Alejandra Soto, a spokeswoman for Planned Parenthood, another reproductive health organization that fights the law while offering services such as testing for sexual infections. transmissible and contraceptives.
Soto explains that in recent days, supporters of the so-called pro-life movement went to their clinics in the state to take videos and photos of those arriving at the centers. One of the most controversial aspects of the law is that it prevents enforcement from falling to the authorities. Instead, responsibility has been delegated to ordinary citizens, regardless of whether they live in the State of Texas, to civilly prosecute anyone who “helps or abets” an abortion after the sixth week of pregnancy. This includes paying or reimbursing the cost of the intervention. If the process is successful, the claimant can receive $10,000 (about 51,900 reais) to cover his legal damages. Defendants will not receive this financial support if they win in court.
“It’s nauseating what’s happening,” says 42-year-old Susan. This Austin-born woman is irritated by the law’s entry into force. After reading in the newspapers that many clergymen are harassing staff and women at clinics, she went looking for them to confront them. “I have a 22-year-old daughter and I don’t think any of these people know anything about the decision-making process that women must go through,” she says outside one of the Austin clinics.
The law is “an attack on abortion jurisprudence,” says Jack Balkin, professor of constitutional law at Yale University. The expert says that the way the law was drafted, especially the part that prevents authorities from pursuing suspects, “is an attempt to isolate an evidently unconstitutional law from review by the federal courts.” Some Supreme Court judges, who did not rule on the unconstitutionality of the law, called it “unusual and unprecedented.”
SB 8 is the conservative movement’s latest achievement in open warfare against the Roe v. Wade case, the flagship Supreme Court ruling that has protected women’s right to decide since 1973. The Conservative Wave Spurred by Donald Trump’s Rise to Power multiplied attempts to overturn this law. “So far this year, there have been nearly 600 abortion restrictions in over 45 states. About 90 have been approved,” says Planned Parenthood. “The wave could gain strength with this law, the most extreme of all, and clearly part of a political agenda to totally annul abortion”, ponders Soto.
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The women’s sexual rights movements believe Roe’s big litmus test against Wade will come in the coming months, when the Supreme Court, which received three right-wing judges during Trump’s presidency, must revise a Mississippi law banning abortion after the 15th week of pregnancy in a direct confrontation with the progressive sentence that will turn 50 years old. This decision, essential for the future of abortion in the United States, is expected by mid-2022.
Obstacles to centers
The law, which was passed in May by the Republican majority in the Texas Legislature, which is only 27 percent female congressmen, did not come out of nowhere. The coup has been prepared for a long time. Republicans, who have ruled the state since 1995, have been fighting abortion for years. In 2013 they approved an initiative that required clinics to have the resources of a hospital: special tubes for anesthesia, meticulous room specifications, and a minimum number of nurses. In addition, doctors performing the procedure must have an office in a hospital less than 50 kilometers from the clinic. These requirements have moved the state, the second largest in the country after Alaska, from 40 centers to 19. Abortions performed in Texas fell 13 percent. The Supreme Court struck down the law three years later in a major decision, but the composition of the Court was different at the time.
The scandal sparked by the entry into force of SB 8 overshadowed another harsh measure taken by lawmakers. The Senate passed a rule that would prohibit doctors from prescribing abortion pills to patients more than seven weeks pregnant. Current legislation, however, allows for up to 10 weeks. The rule is awaiting Gov. Greg Abbott’s signature to go into effect.
Gov. Abbott also decreed at the start of the pandemic the suspension of any surgical intervention that was not “immediately necessary”, which resulted in an almost total suspension of abortions for just over a month. Whole Woman’s Health had to cancel 200 appointments in that period. All these attempts over the years have been successful. The state went from 72,470 abortions in 2011 to 55,400 in 2017, according to the Guttmacher Institute, which specializes in reproductive rights.
Just this week, the state consolidated a shift to the far right. Not only with the passage of one of the strictest laws on termination of pregnancy. A regulation that allows residents to carry firearms in public without the need for authorization has also entered into force. And a series of measures that make it difficult to participate in elections were also voted on recently.
Anne Richards was the second Texas governor and the last Democrat to come to power in the state. In a debate during the campaign in February 1990, she was asked about an initiative that would ban abortion for women under 17 years old. On television, Richards said he would veto the law. “No legislator, judge or bureaucrat has any reason to determine whether or not a woman has an abortion,” he said at the event. Her daughter, Cecile Richards, was President of Planned Parenthood for a decade, until 2018, championing women’s right to decide. Texas, however, went in the opposite direction.
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