‘The pro-life movement is incredibly energized right now’: Texas law fuels anti-abortion fight across country

Already, the Supreme Court’s action this week has launched conversations from Tallahassee to Birmingham, Ala., to Washington, D.C., about abortion restrictions that could now be fair game under a new court and a new paradigm. provided by the Texas decision.

“The pro-life movement is incredibly vibrant right now,” said John Seago, legislative director of the organization Texas Right to Life. Seago said he heard from advocates from a number of other states who wanted to emulate the measure, which was redesigned from previous abortion laws to avoid being struck down by a legal challenge. .

Texas law, the most restrictive in the country, prohibits abortions after about six weeks, before many women even know they are pregnant. But it is its unique legal structure that has earned it a prominent place on the national stage. Because Texas has delegated ordinary citizens to enforce the law and prohibits state officials from doing so, the measure is difficult to challenge in court.

By a 5-4 vote, with Chief Justice John Roberts joining the court’s three liberal members, the Supreme Court late Wednesday night refused to grant an emergency motion to block the law, meaning it will likely remain in effect as the legal battle continues in lower courts.

The judges did not rule on the constitutionality of the law itself, but their decision not to block it sparked panic among reproductive rights advocates, who were already worried about how the High Court might rule. on a legal challenge to a new state law, the Mississippi law that bans abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy. This is far earlier than the standard for fetal viability, considered to be around 24 weeks, established by the landmark Roe v. Wade.

Now, since the vast majority of abortions take place after the six-week threshold, access to abortion has all but disappeared in one of the largest states in the country. That burden won’t fall the same: 70% of abortions in Texas in 2019 were performed on women of color, according to the Guttmacher Institute.

“The court effectively overturned Roe v. Wade under cover of night,” said Rebecca Hart Holder, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Massachusetts. “Ever since Trump was elected, we knew this was coming and it’s devastating that it was here.”

Democrats from Massachusetts to Colorado called the decision barbaric and extreme on Thursday, but faced a limited menu of options to fight it. President Biden promised to direct his administration to seek ways to protect Texans’ access to abortion without giving many details about how his aides would do so.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced plans to introduce a bill that would codify the right to an abortion into federal law later this month. But that legislation, which is expected to pass the House, faces an uphill battle in the Senate, where Democrats hold a slim majority.

The abortion issue could spark another battle in Congress over the filibuster, which effectively requires Republican support in the Senate for most laws to pass. Deputy House Speaker Katherine Clark, a Democrat from Melrose, said the High Court’s action this week needed a response from Congress – and made it clear the Senate should strike down the filibuster.

“We have the smallest of majorities in the Senate, but we have a majority and we have to do everything we can to make sure that we don’t let women, their freedom, their right to make their own decisions about their health care. health, and their future, behind it,” Clark told the Globe.

There are more legal steps to come in the case, and experts differ on whether they expect the High Court to eviscerate Roe entirely. In Massachusetts, the right to abortion is guaranteed because it is enshrined in state law.

Nonetheless, local activists and politicians are calling for immediate action, while some Democrats are channeling their disappointment and fury through their wallets. They write checks to candidates who support abortion rights or organizations that will pay for women in Texas and other restrictive states go to clinics that can still perform them legally.

“I wish there was a clear next step,” said Jesse Mermell, a former Democratic congressional candidate and abortion rights advocate. She said abortion providers in places like Massachusetts should increase capacity to ensure they can serve patients from other states.

Democrats are already signaling that they will use the abortion issue to galvanize voters in next year’s midterm elections. And for Republicans, the restrictive law is not without political risks.

Even in Texas, it has not been universally embraced by abortion advocates; the Texas Alliance for Life, which sometimes disagrees with the separate group Texas Right to Life, was neutral on the measure, citing the likelihood of it being overturned by the courts. Many prominent Republicans who support restrictions on abortion, like Senator John Cornyn of Texas, have so far refrained from celebrating the High Court’s decision, a potential indication that they are predicting turbulent political waters for the law.

According to a recent Pew Research Center poll, 59% of American adults say abortion should be legal in most or all cases, although there are strong partisan divisions. Texas abortion law is unique in that it allows private citizens to sue strangers for abortion, making its political impact difficult to predict.

Yet Republican activists sing of the victory, celebrating it as the legacy of the Trump presidency and the early promise of a country where legal abortions are increasingly difficult to obtain.

“We are thrilled,” said Mike Gonidakis, president of Ohio Right to Life. The nation, he said, is moving closer to the “post-Roe America” he and his allies have envisioned for decades.

In Florida, State Rep. Anthony Sabatini plans to introduce a bill mirroring the Texas measure. Other Tallahassee Republicans “are going to be under tremendous pressure to join us,” he said, and the Senate’s top Republican signaled they would take such a step.

Eric Johnston, a Birmingham lawyer who has drafted more than a dozen anti-abortion laws in Alabama, including the ban on most abortions passed in 2019, said this week’s news may spur other states to challenge Roe.

“It’s a momentum,” he said. “When you have different cases across the country on the subject and different things are being done, the attorneys in those states and the attorneys general in those states — that encourages them to push them forward.”

Emma Platoff can be contacted at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter @emmaplatoff.

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