The Right Wing

New Texas Anti-Abortion Law Could Jail Anyone Who Drives a Woman to a Clinic

Anti-choice activists are taking their well-established cruelty to new levels.

Photo Credit: Shutterstock / J. Bicking

Cruelty is the key weapon in the anti-choice movement’s war on women. The latest evidence comes in the form of Texas Senate Bill 8, legislation designed to violate women’s constitutional rights by outlawing abortion in all but name. This is not the first bill Texas’ anti-choice right wing has created to make abortion less safe and accessible, but it is the first that attempts to dole out jail time to everyone involved. It’s no longer enough for Texas Republicans to criminalize abortion. Now they want to ensure everyone who helps a woman get an abortion is an accessory to the crime.

The highly punitive nature of the new Texas legislation is tied to the state’s “law of parties,” which holds that “a person is criminally responsible for an offense committed by the conduct of another” if that person intentionally “solicits, encourages, directs, aids, or attempts to aid the other person to commit the offense.” Under the rule, SB8 would make anyone who plays a role in an outlawed abortion party to a criminal act, as described by the Texas Observer:

The sweeping anti-abortion bill that passed the Texas House May 19 could allow nearly anyone involved in the process of an unlawful abortion to be charged with a state jail felony... That includes the doctor who performed the abortion, but also the person who drove the woman to the clinic, the receptionist who booked the appointment and even the bank teller who cashed the check that paid for the procedure.

Women who receive abortions are not targeted for legal action by the bill. And anti-choice activists claim intent is necessary, and ignorance—that is, unknowingly aiding in a woman getting an illegal abortion—will protect people from criminal prosecution. But Texas Democratic Representative Joe Moody, a former prosecutor, points out that while the bill does state providers who “knowingly perform” outlawed abortions will face criminal charges, that language doesn’t declare anyone else off the hook.

“Others don’t have to know what’s going on, they can just be part of the process,” Moody told the Observer. “The law of parties casts a wide net. Prosecutors have wide discretion on the charges being brought.”

Moody assumed SB8’s gross legislative overreach was an “unintended consequence,” of how poorly the law is written. So he drafted an amendment that specified who can and cannot be prosecuted. That bill failed, despite support from all but one Democrat. The bill's death on the House floor shows Texas GOP lawmakers are fully invested in the legislation being as viciously applied as possible.

“I think by rejecting my amendment, [opponents showed] their intent was not only to go after physicians. I guess I misunderstood,” Moody told the Observer. “[This bill] is so poorly drafted, so poorly worded, that I think it shows they’re not really concerned about making good policy.”

“If the goal is to prosecute people who perform these acts, what’s written here goes way beyond that,” he added.

The Austin Chronicle notes that “House Republicans spared women compassion by voting down an amendment by Rep. Jessica Farrar, D-Houston, that would have made an exception if the mother's life is in jeopardy and one by Rep. Chris Turner, D-Grand Prairie, that sought to carve out exceptions for survivors of rape and incest.”

The absurdities within SB8 are numerous. The law contains a requirement that fetal tissue be buried or cremated by providers. It bans dilation and evacuation (D&E), which is the safest way to perform second-trimester abortions. The legislation outlaws a form of abortion that was already prohibited by the Supreme Court a decade ago. The bill is proof that the high court’s decision to strike down part of Texas’ highly restrictive abortion law last year has had little impact on GOP state legislators’ efforts to take away women’s reproductive rights.

Having cleared the House and Senate, SB8 now sits on the desk of Texas Governor Greg Abbott, who once wrote an op-ed condemning abortion using a bevy of anti-choice lies. He is expected to sign the bill. Without question, it will face challenges from numerous legal advocacy groups.

“Texas taxpayers will now have to pay for expensive litigation because lawmakers insist on passing bills they know are unconstitutional, simply to appease an extremist anti-choice lobby,” Heather Busby, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Texas, told the Chronicle.

One Democratic legislator, Representative Donna Howard, was precise in defining the damage SB8 will cause. She also noticed the hypocrisy of an anti-choice GOP that has taken every measure to prevent access to family planning.

“There is no reason to come here session after session and drive women into the shadows for illegal abortion—but this bill will do that,” Howard said to colleagues, according to the Chronicle. “This is political interference in medicine at its worst. Politicians have no place in the medical exam room. We can sit here self-righteously and decide that we always know what's best for every person, but we do not. If you actually want to stop abortion, then help me stop unwanted pregnancies.”

Kali Holloway is a senior writer and the associate editor of media and culture at AlterNet.

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