On September 1, the state of Texas implemented Senate Bill 8 (SB8) banning abortion after six weeks of pregnancy, including in cases of rape and incest.
Given that most women are not even aware they are pregnant at six weeks, SB8 amounts to a near-total abortion ban. It is the most restrictive such law in the entire United States, where the Supreme Court’s landmark 1973 Roe vs Wade ruling ostensibly offers constitutional protections for abortion rights.
In addition to being criminally invasive, the Texas law is totally unhinged. For starters, its enforcement is delegated not to agents of the state but rather to individual citizens who stand to win $10,000 or more by bringing lawsuits against doctors, abortion clinic staff, Uber drivers, and any other witting or unwitting accomplices to abortions performed after the six-week cutoff.
Plaintiffs need not be from Texas nor have any relation to the defendants. Presumably, SB8 will not only encourage run-of-the-mill American religious zealots to further unleash their inner policemen but also incentivise assorted other demographics to capitalise on efforts to dismantle the semblance of women’s rights that has been attained under patriarchal capitalism.
As NPR notes, the Texas Right to Life organisation has already “set up what it calls a ‘whistleblower’ website where people can submit anonymous tips about anyone they believe to be violating the law”.
While the Justice Department has sued the state of Texas over SB8’s alleged unconstitutionality, the US Supreme Court has refused to block the law. Reuters reported that “in an unsigned explanation, the court’s majority said the Texas law’s unusual construction – leaving enforcement to individuals bringing lawsuits – limited its ability to act”.
The moral of the story, it seems, is that it does not matter if a law is legal or not as long as it is being enforced by private citizens rather than the people who are supposed to enforce laws.
In other Texan ironies, September 1 also played host to the birth of a state law allowing the carriage of concealed handguns without a permit.
So much for the “right to life”.
According to right-wing Republican Texas governor Greg Abbott, SB8 “ensures that the life of every unborn child who has a heartbeat will be saved from the ravages of abortion”.
However, state concern rarely extends to beating hearts outside the womb, where humans are instead subjected to the ravages of a deadly neoliberal system predicated on brutal inequality and the denial of adequate health care, housing, education, and other rights that would in fact help “save” lives.
It bears underscoring, too, that the criminalisation of abortion does not deter women from seeking to terminate pregnancies that they do not want or cannot afford; it simply forces them to pursue less safe, often life-threatening options.
To be sure, the harmful effects of SB8 will play out disproportionately on the bodies of poor women – particularly Black and Latina women – such being the reality of racialised socioeconomic oppression in the country where Abbott was named “Best Governor in the Nation” in 2020, according to his official website.
Indigenous women, too, are facing an escalation of hardship. NBC News writes that, not only are Native women in the US “more than twice as likely than white women to die from conditions caused or exacerbated by pregnancy”, Justice Department statistics indicate that one in three is “raped or the victim of attempted rape”.
In a 1981 book chapter titled Racism, Birth Control and Reproductive Rights, iconic scholar and activist Angela Davis reflected on contemporary disproportionate rates of forced surgical sterilisation of Native American, Chicana, Puerto Rican, and Black women – not to mention their poor white counterparts – via federally funded programmes in the US.
It is trivia like this that suggests US abortion policy has never really been about potential beating hearts; rather, it is about controlling female bodies.
In the same chapter, Davis observed that support for abortion rights among Black and Latina women had less to do with “their desire to be free of their pregnancy” and more to do with “the miserable social conditions which dissuade them from bringing new lives into the world”.
Black women, Davis emphasised, “have been aborting themselves since the earliest days of slavery”.
The official “pro-life” crowd, on the other hand, is largely impervious to considerations involving historical context, socioeconomic reality, and reason in general.
For me, some of that crowd is uncomfortably close to home. As I was perusing a recent Washington Post article on SB8, I came across a paragraph on an anti-abortion demonstration outside a clinic in Austin, Texas, which contained a name that rang a bell: “Celie Harden knelt in the dirt, rosary in hand, and prayed”, enthusing that it was “‘fantastic’ that regular citizens now have the ability to sue clinics and others who help facilitate illegal abortions”.
A brief Google investigation confirmed that the Harden in question was indeed the mother of a former classmate of mine at a tiny, almost all-white Catholic elementary school in the Texas capital, where I had spent part of my youth learning such important life lessons as that my dog was not going to heaven and that use of tinted lip balm was the first step on a slippery slope to premarital sex.
Meanwhile, some critics of SB8 have also lost the plot. A USA Today opinion column, for example, warned that “Gun rights could be lost next”.
Over at the Chicago Sun-Times, former US presidential candidate the Reverend Jesse Jackson lambasted the “Texas Taliban wing of the Republican Party” – with the “Texas Taliban” rallying cry also being taken up by the likes of actress-activists Alyssa Milano and Rosanna Arquette.
It is anyone’s guess, of course, why fanaticism in a country founded on genocide and slavery requires Orientalist comparisons to far-off brown foreigners who rose to power in the first place thanks in part to none other than US bellicosity.
Call it the bloody ravages of imperialism – which, mind you, is not just a Republican thing.
In response to the “Texas Taliban” hullaballoo, feminist filmmaker Mara Ahmed marvelled on Facebook at the “level of casual Islamophobia on the left”. Defining the Texan abortion ban as “quintessentially American”, she entreated critics to please “keep it within the realm of American evil”.
And as America goes on being its quintessential self, it is time to abort SB8 – and a lot more while we are at it.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.
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