Women will now be required to hold burial or funeral services for their unborn fetuses in Texas—and could face criminal penalties for accessing abortion care in the state.
After a drawn out period of debates, Republican Governor Greg Abbott signed Texas Senate Bill 8 into law—making women responsible for the “disposition of human fetus, human fetal tissue, and embryonic and fetal tissue remains.”
The political and social atmosphere of Texas has long been recognized as anti-abortion, but what individuals have now turned to are attempts to humanize the fetus rather than prevent abortion itself. After pushback from a federal judge, the Texan anti-abortioners have re-configurated their agenda.
The law requires women to cremate or bury their fetus, and it also bars them from obtaining dilation and evacuation abortions—one of the most common and safest abortion procedures women can undergo in their second trimesters. On top of the insult of this law, which puts the fetus before a woman’s life and bodily autonomy, women’s reproductive rights have also suffered another injury. Women beyond about 16 weeks of pregnancy are now banned from obtaining a commonplace type of abortion—meaning those who wish to will be forced to travel out of state. If women obtain dilation and evacuation abortions in Texas, they can be punished with criminal penalties and, if so desired, face civil action by the biological father of her fetus. Any clinic or abortion provider in the state who is caught performing the procedure could lose their job and be slapped with a hefty fine or even sentenced to jail time. The law allots no exceptions for pregnancies that are the product of incest and rape.
Texas is now one of eight U.S. states that has banned dilation and evacuation abortions. After its last reading, the state bill passed 93-45. Of the 138 representatives who voted, a mere 24 were women.
Although the new law would not be put into effect until this September, activists are already rallying together to push back—and have been from the start. When the bill was first introduced, a few daring women spoke their mind by mailing in used tampons, pads and pantiliners to Gov. Abbott with notes reading “bury this!”—a bold act of protest was inspired by a Facebook post made by a former clinic worker. Women across Texas have hit the streets protesting not only this new law, but the general anti-abortion climate of their state. Some have taken to protesting while dressed as handmaids, an ode to Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale and its warnings about state control of women’s bodies. NARAL Pro-Choice Texas has been organizing and staging protests around the state.
This law creates a dangerous environment for pregnant or soon-to-be pregnant women. Lawmakers in Texas appear to have learned little from the damage incurred from HB2, a draconian abortion ban passed in the state that was ultimately struck down by the Supreme Court. After its inception, abortion clinics across Texas shuttered, leaving women with little control over their own reproductive health. Women were attempting to self-abort, and those seeking care at clinics within state lines had to wait as long as 20 days. Some ended up carrying unwanted pregnancies to term—no small feat, considering the costs of raising a child and giving birth.
Instead of legislating abortion, lawmakers in Texas would do well to focus on the state’s crumbling women’s health infrastructure. According to sources such as National Public Radio (NPR), the maternal mortality rates in Texas have skyrocketed within the last few years, with lack of appropriate pre-natal care being an important reason.