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.