As the longest serving Planned Parenthood affiliate CEO in the country, I am unequivocal when I say this is the most dangerous time for abortion access in decades.
Roe v. Wade is still law, but when the U.S. Supreme Court failed to act and stop enforcement of a dangerous and vindictive abortion ban in Texas, we all saw a preview of what will come to dismantle this constitutionally protected right.
The new Texas abortion ban, specifically designed to evade court challenges, went into effect on Sept. 1. For years, organizations could take legal action against abortion bans because it would be illegal for the state to strip citizens of their constitutional rights. The Texas law is different in that it is enforced by the people.
The law empowers vigilante bounty hunters and incentivizes them to surveil and harass people. The “sue thy neighbor” law means that people who help or intend to help someone get an abortion after six weeks in Texas could be sued by a neighbor, distant relative, abusive partner, or even a stranger from out of state — and collect $10,000 for each successful claim. The law also has no exceptions for people who are raped or a survivor of incest.
This ban that encourages vigilantism is blatantly unconstitutional, and sets a dangerous precedent for the rest of the country. And there is more.
In May, the Supreme Court announced it would hear its first case on abortion access since Justice Amy Coney Barrett joined the court last fall. Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization is a challenge brought by the independent and sole abortion provider in Mississippi, represented by the Center for Reproductive Rights, to that state’s 2018 ban on abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy.
The Mississippi case is a significant abortion rights test in a Supreme Court reshaped with three new conservative justices nominated by the former president. The Supreme Court is set to hear oral arguments on the case this fall, and issue its decision on the case in June of 2022.
The fact that the Supreme Court decided to take up the Mississippi case, coupled with a six-week abortion ban going into effect in Texas, is cause for alarm.
This is not a drill. The time to act is now. The Biden administration just filed suit against Texas, declaring its abortion law unconstitutional and issuing an injunction blocking its enforcement. This is an important first step, but there is more work to do as access to abortion is still at risk.
Reproductive health advocates, providers and supporters are terrified for people across Texas. Right now, patients across Texas are scared, confused and being left with nowhere to turn to access safe, legal abortion unless they have the time and money to travel hundreds of miles to another state.
Many Black and Latino communities, people with low incomes and those who live in rural communities already struggle to access reproductive health care. The unjust burden of this law would fall disproportionately on those who can least afford it.
The horrifying effects of this law are far reaching, and will likely touch someone you know. If you think what happened in Texas won’t impact us here in Washington, you are wrong. We know people in states where it is difficult to obtain abortions will travel to Washington. States like Washington, Oregon and California must be prepared for an increased demand for services.
Planned Parenthood is already preparing for this reality. Planned Parenthood health centers are located at the border of Washington to help patients from neighboring states, such as patients from Idaho who could lose access to abortion in less than a year.
While Washington has long had strong laws protecting the right to abortion on the books, our state is not immune to challenges in accessing care. Just this year, three Planned Parenthood health centers that provided abortion services closed. We can’t afford to lose one more. Washington’s elected officials stepped up and helped fill a decadelong funding gap, and we are hopeful that this state will do everything in its power to demonstrate that Washington will maintain its steadfast commitment to expanding abortion access. The urgency is real, and the need is there.
The probability that more states pass this Texas law is high. In states with conservative majorities, there is real cause for concern. Eleven states have so called trigger bans — including our neighbors in Idaho — and nearly a dozen more have pre-Roe v. Wade bans. These bans automatically make abortion illegal if Roe v. Wade falls. Idaho and Kentucky are two states where a trigger ban is in place.
Kentucky is in very dangerous territory. With only two abortion providers left in the that state — both in Louisville, we are at a critical moment.
The Texas law will have dangerous consequences for the medical community. The last few years have had a chilling effect on OB/GYNs who want to provide abortion care. Nearly half of the states in this country have laws on the books that will criminalize doctors for providing abortions. The Texas law may also makes it harder to convince medical students to provide this care.
A majority of people in this country believe abortion should be legal. Now it is up to all of us to hold the line. Congress must pass the Women’s Health Protection Act, and we must take this moment and fight back with everything we’ve got. We must vote because abortion is on the ballot in 2022, and get loud with your family, friends, and the community. The stakes have never been higher. We must fight back like our freedom depends on it — because it does.