Whether in Texas or closer to home, women are once again having to fight for our right to an abortion
University of Texas women rally at the Texas Capitol to protest Governor Greg Abbott's signing of the nation's strictest abortion law, 1 September 2021| Alamy
4 min read
The Texas abortion ban is a shocking rollback of women’s hard-fought reproductive rights and damaging to the fight for equality.
Last week, the US Supreme Court failed to intervene on a law passed by the Texas State legislature, which outlawed abortion after a foetal heartbeat is detected, which often happens at around six weeks of pregnancy. Typically, at this point women do not know they are pregnant, thus making this a de facto abortion ban in the state of Texas. This ban also applies in cases of rape or incest.
This law also allows individuals to sue abortion providers if they perform an abortion after a foetal heartbeat is detected. The new law also allows for anyone who offers support to be sued, including those who provide transportation to an abortion clinic, such as Uber, Lyft and taxi drivers. Lyft and Uber have stated that they will cover all legal fees for drivers sued under the law.
To assist in the enforcement of the law, anti-abortion groups set up a tip-line for suspected violations of the new ban. However, pro-choice activists have flooded the website with fake reports and spam to make the law unenforceable. This website has now been taken down after the web host company stated that it violated its policies.
Meanwhile organisations on the ground in Texas such as Whole Women’s Health and The Lawyering Project are working on getting women in Texas access to abortion services, as well as financial and emotional support.
This Supreme Court decision not to intervene completely disregards the constitutional rights established through the landmark case of Roe vs Wade in 1973. We know that the impact of this abortion ban will fall hardest on the poorest, most marginalised communities.
Women will be forced to travel out of the state to access reproductive health care. For those who have few financial resources, childcare responsibilities, physical and mental health problems, or are living with an abusive partner – this will be a very difficult, often impossible, journey.
Even if a woman can make the journey to another state, these trips can be traumatising, adding to the stigma surrounding abortion. Many women will be put off by this alone.
Bodily autonomy should not just be the privilege of those able to travel or who are wealthy, but this decision will further entrench inequalities between rich women and poor women.
Shamefully, in 2020 371 women from Northern Ireland were forced to travel to England and Wales to access abortion services
Access to abortion care has been an important step towards gender equality. This latest development is a definitive step backwards for women’s rights.
The reality of this abortion ban will be a rise in dangerous unregulated abortion procedures, and unwanted pregnancies. None of which will be good for women, children or the wider community.
This development is a stark reminder that women’s reproductive rights have to constantly be defended. For example, we still have an abortion law in England and Wales, which is based on a Victorian criminal statute, and in the UK we are still fighting battles on women’s access to reproductive healthcare.
Since the outset of the pandemic in England, Scotland and Wales, women have had access to telemedicine abortion – with women up to 12 weeks pregnant able to take prescribed abortion pills at home. However, the government is currently considering reimposing criminal sanctions in England and Wales for using abortion pills at home. I hope that the government will continue to allow access to safe and effective telemedicine for a medical procedure.
In Northern Ireland access to telemedicine for abortion is only available in a very limited way. Not only this, but the Northern Ireland Executive, which is responsible for the commissioning and funding of abortion services, has failed to do so. Shamefully, in 2020 371 women from Northern Ireland were forced to travel to England and Wales to access abortion services.
Access to reproductive healthcare is an essential part of a women’s human rights. The ability to choose when to have a child is fundamental to women’s well-being. As the co-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Sexual and Reproductive Health, I stand with all of the women and all those affected by the abortion ban in Texas.
We will continue the fight for reproductive rights that meet women’s needs on both sides of the Atlantic.
Diana Johnson is Labour MP for Hull North and co-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Sexual and Reproductive Health
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