Texas’ bounty-based heartbeat law

2021-09-02

in Law, Politics, Psychology, Rants

America’s unravelling continues, with the Supreme Court declining 5-4 to hear an emergency appeal of Texas’ bizarre and cruel fetal heartbeat anti-abortion law.

Laurence Tribe has written about what the law’s bounty system will do:

It wasn’t just Roe that died at midnight on 1 September with barely a whimper, let alone a bang. It was the principle that nobody’s constitutional rights should be put on sale for purchase by anyone who can find an informant or helper to turn in whoever might be trying to exercise those rights.

That, after all, is how the new Texas law works. Its perverse structure, which delegates to private individuals anywhere a power the state of Texas is forbidden to exercise itself until Roe is overruled, punishes even the slightest form of assistance to desperate pregnant women. Doctors, family members, insurance companies, even Uber drivers, are all at risk if they help a woman in need. And the risk is magnified by the offer of a big fat financial reward for whoever successfully nabs a person guilty of facilitating an abortion once a heartbeat can be detected, typically six weeks after a woman’s last period, well before most women even know they are pregnant. There is not even an exception for pregnancies resulting from rape or incest. No law remotely like this has ever been allowed to go into effect.

The prospect of hefty bounties will breed a system of profit-seeking, Soviet-style informing on friends and neighbors. These vigilantes will sue medical distributors of IUDs and morning-after pills, as well as insurance companies. These companies, in turn, will stop offering reproductive healthcare in Texas. As of a minute before midnight on 31 August, clinics in Texas were already turning patients away out of fear. Even if the law is eventually struck down, many will probably close anyway.

Worse still, if women try to escape the state to access abortion services, their families will be on the hook for offering even the smallest aid. If friends or family of a woman hoping to terminate her pregnancy drive her across state lines, or help her organize money for a plane or bus ticket, they could be liable for “aiding and abetting” a now-banned abortion, even if the procedure itself takes place outside Texas.

Adding insult to injury, if a young woman asks for money for a bus ticket, or a ride to the airport, friends and parents fearful of liability might vigorously interrogate her about her intentions. This nightmarish state of affairs burdens yet another fundamental constitutional privilege: the right to interstate travel, recognized by the supreme court in 1999 as a core privilege of federal citizenship.

It’s a heartless and unfeeling religious morality that sees this kind of harassment as desirable. The Supreme Court’s conduct will also further erode its own position as a unifying public institution and legitimate arbiter of constitutional grievances. When people lose faith in unifying institutions — and in the perception that there are legitimate avenues for pursuing their interests — it threatens complete breakdown in the country’s self-understanding as one polity, and further progression into settling questions of policy and law by force rather than through reason and democratic debate.

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

. September 2, 2021 at 3:01 pm

Even as I know that things aren’t really better now, there had been some relief from that specific kind of stress in recent months. And so maybe the worst part about sitting with the feeling—that “oh right, this is what it felt like under Trump”—was the realization that this was the entire plan all along. This exact moment is why enough people held their noses and voted for him, and it’s a reminder that the consequences are here to stay

https://slate.com/news-and-politics/2021/09/texas-abortion-scotus-roe-overturned.html

. September 2, 2021 at 3:04 pm

Texas’ ban, known as SB 8, constitutes a uniquely insidious workaround to Roe. It outlaws abortion after six weeks but does not call on state officials to enforce its restrictions.
Instead, as Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote in dissent, the law “deputized the State’s citizens as bounty hunters, offering them cash prizes for civilly prosecuting their neighbors’ medical procedures.” Random strangers can sue any “abettor” to an abortion anywhere in Texas and collect a minimum of $10,000, plus attorneys’ fees. The act’s language is incredibly broad, encompassing any friend, family member, clergy member, or counselor who facilitates the abortion in any way. Every employee of an abortion clinic, from front desk staff to doctors, is liable as well. And when an individual successfully sues an abortion provider, the court must permanently shut it down.

https://slate.com/news-and-politics/2021/09/supreme-court-overturn-roe-wade-texas.html

. September 3, 2021 at 3:18 am

The staggering implications of the Supreme Court’s Texas anti-abortion ruling

The Supreme Court just dealt a crippling blow to Roe v. Wade — and to the rule of law.

https://www.vox.com/22653779/supreme-court-abortion-texas-sb8-whole-womans-health-jackson-roe-wade

. September 3, 2021 at 4:55 pm

Republicans in six states rush to mimic Texas anti-abortion law

North Dakota, South Dakota, Mississippi, Indiana, Arkansas and Florida eye similar measures to new Texas ban after six weeks

It’s not just Texas – anti-abortion activists are targeting women’s rights in Europe

. September 3, 2021 at 5:04 pm

But what was new about the Texas bill is its invitation to its residents to become vigilantes, bounty hunters and snitches. This will likely throw a woman who suspects she is pregnant into a hideous state of fearful secrecy, because absolutely anyone can profit off her condition and anyone who aids her, from the driver to the doctor, is liable. It makes pregnancy a crime, since it is likely to lead to the further criminalization even of the significant percentage of pregnancies that end in miscarriage. It will lead women – particularly the undocumented, poor, the young, those under the thumbs of abusive spouses or families – to die of life-threatening pregnancies or illicit abortions or suicide out of despair. A vigilante who goes after a woman is willing to see her die.

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2021/sep/03/republicans-texas-abortion-right-democracy

. September 4, 2021 at 6:19 pm

Supreme Court ruling on Texas law was the result of decades of pressure from anti-abortion groups to shape the court

https://www.cnn.com/2021/09/04/politics/abortion-legal-strategy-roe-v-wade-texas-abortion-ban/index.html

Alena Prazak September 7, 2021 at 11:53 am

A very sad day indeed in Texas! A judge or any man has no right to decide what a woman should or needs to do with her own body. It is hardly a joyful choice. America continues to shock and frighten me.

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