Abortion is a common and normal part of the range of reproductive health care services that people have been using for centuries, and the people who access that care are our family members, friends, neighbors, colleagues and co-workers.
The recent passage of the Texas anti-abortion law Senate Bill 8, like many restrictions, will not stop people from seeking abortions, but rather make it inaccessible and unsafe for those who can’t afford to get around the law.
Texas’s new ban is extreme, and also just one piece of the larger effort to dismantle abortion access in every state.
When SB 8 went into effect on Sept. 1, making it illegal for abortions to be performed after an arbitrary limit of six weeks, it was a direct challenge to the nearly 50-year precedent established in Roe v. Wade. Leaving the enforcement of the ban to anti-abortion private citizens was both a perverse twist and also an extension of the often racist, sexist and classist history of private citizens turning in people suspected of having illegal abortions, or even those who’ve experienced poor pregnancy outcomes.
After first ignoring requests to block the law before it went into effect, the U.S. Supreme Court later issued an unsigned decision, under cover of darkness and without hearing any arguments, to allow the law to stand, immediately putting millions of Texans’ health, safety and rights at risk.
While North Carolina has not yet passed an anti-abortion law as extreme as SB 8, we’ve seen many similar anti-abortion strategies used to restrict patients’ access to reproductive health care, including during the current legislative session. The details of the various anti-abortion bills being introduced, debated, and passed in North Carolina and around the country may differ, but the underlying tactics used are often the same. Consider House Bill 453, which Gov. Roy Cooper vetoed earlier this summer:
- Like SB 8, HB 453 seeks to ban an otherwise legal health care procedure for no medical reason.
- Both bills attempt to interfere with and sow distrust in the patient-provider relationship by discouraging honest, open communications about the options available for people experiencing an unplanned pregnancy, or for people who are experiencing complications during their pregnancy.
- By using vague and overly broad language to describe violations of the law, bills like HB 453 and SB 8 can leave health care professionals feeling unable to discuss abortion at all, resulting in isolation and confusion for patients who may have questions.
- Both bills, like other medically unnecessary abortion restrictions, are designed to intimidate physicians out of providing abortion care, burdening the person seeking the abortion to often travel farther, take more time, incur more expenses, and/or resort to unsafe means to obtain this time-sensitive healthcare.
- In legislative and media statements on these and other anti-abortion legislation, bill proponents often make contradictory statements about both the intent and implementation of the law, expanding the chilling effect on access.
Other tactics used to impose abortion restrictions include: the co-opting of racial and gender justice and equity slogans to in an effort to justify harmful restrictions; and amplifying myths, stereotypes, inaccuracies, and falsehoods about abortion care and the people who seek it.
Efforts to criminalize abortion also attempt to shame and isolate both patients who seek abortion and health care professionals who provide it. The heavy stigma around abortion that opponents have sought promote serves to silence the voices of those who have had abortions and those most impacted by these bans. This leaves gaps in many people’s understanding of abortion — gaps that are overflowing with disinformation and harmful, demonizing language.
Anti-abortion lawmakers in Texas and North Carolina have both prioritized anti-abortion bills at the same moment that their states have struggled with COVID-19 surges and all the continuing economic and social disruptions that are part of this global pandemic.
Like all anti-abortion policies, these skewed priorities affect those struggling to access any kind of healthcare the hardest: rural communities, young people, people of lower income, immigrant communities, and People of Color. These communities are those the same lawmakers often claim to represent when they advance inflammatory and unnecessary abortion restrictions.
The U.S. Supreme Court’s failure to block SB 8 is a clear signal that the five of the anti-abortion justices on this court are ready and willing to abuse their positions of power to push their own anti-abortion agenda. And as in the pre-Roe days, they are perfectly comfortable allowing those already sidelined in our society to carry the heavy burden of that political agenda.
While what is happening in Texas is more extreme than what we’ve seen to date in North Carolina, the rhetoric, tactics and strategies underlying the law have been deployed for decades around the country. Reproductive freedom advocates have been fighting state by state against these harmful and stigmatizing efforts, in a battle that acknowledges and honors the humanity and experiences of women and people who can get pregnant.
Today we face an unprecedented assault on our bodies and our autonomy, and we stand with reproductive rights, health and justice advocates here, in Texas, and around the country in working towards a world where everyone can access all the reproductive healthcare they need, including safe and affordable abortion services.
Tara Romano (at left) is the executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice NC.