The (Un)Intended Chilling Effects of the Texas Abortion Law

The impact of Texas’s near-total abortion ban has been much broader than it should have been. And that was precisely the intent of its creators.

texas-abortion-law-healthcare-rights-legal-civil-lawsuit
An abortion rights march in Austin, Texas, in July 2013. (mirsasha / Flickr)

Texans like to boast that everything is bigger and better in the Lone Star State. But this doesn’t hold true for women’s healthcare. Those who have the means and desire are now traveling to Oklahoma, Louisiana and other states to obtain healthcare services that are technically still legal in all 50 states, including Texas. Different states have different laws about when people can obtain abortions, and Texas is now the state with the most restrictive abortion laws in the country.

I’ll put it bluntly: The harm done in Texas is far worse than people could even have envisioned. Yes, Senate Bill 8, which became effective September 1, sanctions individuals and organizations that aid, counsel and otherwise support those seeking to terminate pregnancies. It deputizes private citizens to police and prosecute violators, and it rewards them handsomely for their efforts.

What the law was not supposed to do, however, was to criminalize the women who obtained abortions or who sought information and guidance about their reproductive options. Nevertheless, the near-total abortion ban has effectively stopped Texans from pursuing healthcare services to which they still have a legal right. It has virtually barred them from seeking information about abortion or obtaining appropriate care.

The law’s impact has thus been much broader than it should have been. And that was precisely the intent of its creators. I have seen it firsthand: Since the law was enacted, far fewer women have been calling my office for simple legal advice about their reproductive rights. They mistakenly believe they could be prosecuted just for asking questions about abortion—even though the law only goes after those who support and enable them, through civil damages. It does not in any way criminalize the women who get abortions or who seek information about them, but that fact seems to have gotten lost in the hype about the law. 

If other states were to enact similar legislation, abortion would no longer be a viable option for women in a large swath of the country.

One doctor felt so strongly about his duty of care that he went public with news that he had performed a post-heartbeat abortion, directly inviting lawsuits against him. It is truly bizarre that the first lawsuit filed by a plaintiff under S.B. 8 was brought by a disbarred and sanctioned attorney who is currently in federally supervised home confinement. But the use of this law in such a way, by a stranger with no connection to the woman or her procedure, shows just how problematic it truly is from a legal perspective. Clearly, this is a law without bounds, a free-for-all for people who simply want to pocket a cool $10,000. The doctor’s case highlights the ridiculousness and unfairness of it all.


This is a law without bounds, a free-for-all for people who simply want to pocket a cool $10,000.


By muddying the law’s impact and purposely ensuring it is misunderstood, the anti-abortion lobby has indirectly closed off access to care that should still be available to people in Texas. It may have cut off the legs of women’s reproductive rights, but it has not cut out the heart. Paths to care have narrowed substantially, but all roads are not gone. Already abortion services were limited in remote areas of the large state. The six-week ban just multiplied the challenges exponentially.

Women in rural areas, in South Texas and West Texas, who already had a long way to go to obtain abortion services, must now find a way to get to Oklahoma after six weeks. It will require money, resources and grit to find providers, both in Texas and elsewhere. It may be virtually impossible for women who cannot take time off from work or get childcare to travel, and it could be a Herculean task to drive pregnant women out of state during the COVID pandemic, possibly with children in tow. 

Should neighboring states look at similarly limiting abortion access, women will have to go considerable distances to obtain abortions.

Take Action

Until a court rules otherwise, there is now effectively a complete ban on abortions in Texas, but we can all take action to make a difference now:

  • Read S.B. 8 to understand what the law does.
  • Write to legislators in your state and in Texas about the problems with these types of laws.
  • Donate to organizations such as the The Bridge Collective in Texas and other grassroots nonprofits that provide regional boots on the ground support to Texas women who need resources to get out of state for care. AbortionFinder.org has compiled a list of abortion funds and practical support organizations in Texas that are helping people get legal abortions in Texas and out of state. Donate here and your donation will be split among 10 Texas abortion funds.

If you found this article helpful, please consider supporting our independent reporting and truth-telling for as little as $5 per month.

Up next:

About

Michelle Simpson Tuegel has represented sexual abuse survivors in high-profile cases such as the Larry Nassar litigation against Michigan State University, USA Gymnastics and the U.S. Olympic Committee; sexual assault survivors at the University of Southern California; and female students and athletes in Title IX lawsuits nationwide.