Nearly 50 years after the landmark United States Supreme Court case Roe v. Wade which ruled that a woman’s choice to have or not have an abortion is a private matter protected under the U.S. Constitution, Americans are still fighting tooth and nail for their reproductive rights to be recognized.

On Sept. 1, Texas enacted one of the strictest abortion bans in the country, prohibiting all state abortions after about six weeks of pregnancy unless medically necessary to save the life of the person carrying the child, according to National Public Radio.

Senate Bill 8 outlaws anyone from receiving an abortion once cardiac activity of the fetus can be detected — long before many women even realize they’re pregnant. There are no exceptions for victims of rape or incest. 

SB8 also permits private citizens to sue abortion providers and anyone who helps someone acquire an abortion for up to $10,000.

According to NBC News, on Oct. 6, after the U.S. The Department of Justice (DOJ) requested that the bill be suspended, U.S. District Judge Robert Pitman issued an order to block Texas’ near-total abortion ban.

After only a two-day suspension of Texas’s controversial law, the 5th U.S. Circuit of Appeals swiftly reinstated the ban on Oct. 8. 

Most recently, the DOJ has requested again that the federal courts step in and block the law. The days ahead will be important in determining how the law will proceed. 

The six-week abortion ban in context

While six weeks may seem like a long time for someone to decide and make the appointment to get an abortion, many women do not even know they are pregnant until five to six weeks. 

According to a study published by the U.S. National Library of Medicine that analyzed more than seventeen thousand pregnancies over a 23-year period, among all pregnancies reported in the examined data, the average gestational age for when women became aware of their pregnancy was five and a half weeks.

Late pregnancy awareness, categorized as after six weeks of gestation, was higher among Black women, Hispanic women, women aged 15-19, women with lower levels of education and women who lived in poverty.

Even considering that five and a half weeks is the average time women become aware of their pregnancy, that only gives them half a week to obtain an abortion in Texas if they so choose. 

The decision to terminate or not terminate a pregnancy is a daunting choice to make, one that is not easily decided within a week. 

Moreover, women have to take off work, find childcare, obtain money to afford the procedure and wait 24 hours before receiving an abortion once they decide they want one because of Texas’ Women’s Right to Know Act.

The Texas abortion ban makes it nearly impossible for anyone to receive an abortion. With all of these obstacles in the way, most women will have no choice but to go out of state to get an abortion. 

The SB8 abortion bill is a worrying setback for reproductive rights in the United States; Texas is only the beginning. 

Abortion throughout history 

With reproductive health in the legislative hot seat, it’s important to note that abortion has not always been so heavily criminalized in Western history. 

In the 18th and early 19th century, abortions that took place before “quickening” — when a woman first feels movement of the fetus, around four and half months  — were legal and morally acceptable, according to Geoffry R. Stone’s book, “Sex and the Constitution.”

Even for women who purposefully terminated their pregnancy after quickening, prosecutions rarely took place and at most, were considered a misdemeanor. 

By the mid-1800s, abortion, as well as the use of contraception, was commonplace and generally considered to be ethical practices. It is estimated that roughly 20 percent of all pregnancies during the 1870s were purposefully terminated.

It wasn’t until the late 19th century during the Second Great Awakening that abortion began to be aggressively criminalized. 

By the mid-20th century, every state had begun to make abortion a crime, yet that did not stop women from terminating their pregnancies illegally. During the 1950s, around one million women had an illegal abortion every year.

In the 1970s, Evangelicalism swept the country, and evangelicals, who were largely uninvolved in politics before this point, began stepping into the political arena, according to the Association of Religion Data Archives

It was the evangelical movement that helped reshape conservative politics and gave rise to the birth of the pro-life agenda. Since then, conservative politicians have become increasingly staunch proponents of anti-abortion legislation, and the pro-life stance remains a fundamental value of the Republican party.

In the 21st century, reproductive rights have only continued to dwindle since Roe v. Wade. 

The larger implications of Texas’ abortion ban

2021 is already setting out to be an especially repressive year for abortion access and reproductive rights in the U.S. 

One hundred and six abortion restrictions have already been enacted in 2021 — the highest number of restrictions in any year since the Roe v. Wade decision in 1973, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a policy and research organization committed to studying and advancing reproductive health and rights.

If the federal courts leave Texas’ abortion bill unchecked, this could set a precedent for other right-leaning state legislatures to introduce more restrictive abortion bills of their own. In turn, this would fall heaviest on marginalized groups: people of color, the LGBTQ+ community, low-income individuals, disabled people and more. 

Limiting access to abortion has disastrous affects for individuals. According to the University of California, San Francisco Turnaway study — the most comprehensive, longitudinal study on the effects of abortion and unwanted pregnancies — researchers found that being denied an abortion has adverse, long-term consequences for women. 

The research indicated the following results:

  • Women denied an abortion were more likely to have a household income below the poverty line later in life

  • Being denied an abortion increased womens’ odds of experiencing food and housing insecurity

  • Women who were turned away from an abortion and gave birth instead were more likely to experience chronic pain, such as migraines, joint pain and gestational hypertension

  • Women denied an abortion were more likely to stay in contact with a violent partner 

  • Being turned away from an abortion increased the odds that women raised their child alone

Philosophical considerations tend to dominate the conversation on abortion, but oftentimes, these types of discussions leave people with muddled understandings and even more polarized opinions on the matter.

Yet the tangible, real-world effects that anti-abortion laws have on people is often glossed over. 

The research is clear: abortion restrictions, like SB8, are unequivocally harmful and have devastating effects on people.

Fighting the Texas abortion ban

If you’re looking to donate to help fight the Texas abortion ban, seek resources to get an abortion for yourself or want to learn more information about reproductive health and rights, check out the following resources: 

Follow Paige Nicewaner on Twitter, @indienerdtrash

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