Texas politicians attacked abortion access again — but the resistance is growing

Photo by Marjorie Kamys Cotera

Four years after Texas passed the most restrictive abortion law in the United States and less than one year after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down key provisions of that same law, Texas lawmakers have not learned from their cruel attacks on women’s health and unconstitutional overreach. Instead, they seem emboldened to ramp up their extreme agenda to shame, bully and punish Texans for our reproductive decisions, as seen in the legislative session that just concluded.

Many state politicians spent the better part of the 140-day legislative session robbing Texans of our most basic human rights, including access to safe abortion care — showing complete disregard for court rulings, medical science and people who need abortion care.

One of the most egregious attacks was Senate Bill 8 — a grab bag of outrageous and harmful restrictions on abortion currently awaiting the governor’s signature. SB 8 would force reproductive health care providers to bury or cremate fetal tissue regardless of the patient’s wishes or beliefs, ban a safe and medically-proven abortion method and prevent patients from donating fetal tissue for use in medical research.

SB 8 would severely restrict a person’s ability to make the decisions that are best for them as pregnancy progresses, including whether to seek abortion care. We know firsthand that Texans are not always able to get abortions as soon as they have made their decisions. Some may have been deceived by “crisis pregnancy centers” about how far along a pregnancy is, some may be raising funds to pay for care and others may be arranging travel and lodging because there are no clinics in their communities.

Though SB 8 passed, we didn’t let it happen without a fight. Activists inspired by Margaret Atwood’s “Handmaid’s Tale” donned striking red capes and white bonnets to protest abortion restrictions by referencing Atwood’s story of reproductive oppression. The actions garnered international press attention, flooded social media and inspired creative protests nationwide.

Laws like SB 8 are attacks on our health, pure and simple, and the harm will fall hardest on those in our state who are already struggling. Yet even if SB 8 is signed, the fight is far from over. Despite Texas facing more than $4.5 million in legal fees due to the state’s defense of the unconstitutional clinic shut-down law struck down by the Supreme Court last year, Texas politicians have carelessly positioned the state to expect yet another lawsuit by the Center for Reproductive Rights over SB 8.

We also worked together to fight Senate Bill 20, which would have prevented private insurance companies from offering coverage for abortion care. The Lilith Fund, TEA Fund and NARAL Pro-Choice Texas interrupted the vote on SB 20 with a bold banner drop in the Senate chamber, to show that while legislators seem bent on making abortion unaffordable, Texans are on the side of women’s health and reproductive justice. Texas abortion funds Lilith Fund and TEA Fund — local organizations that connect clients with financial and practical support for abortion care — organized the first-ever Texas Abortion Funds Advocacy Day, which brought more than 50 advocates and volunteers to the Capitol in March to support a comprehensive advocacy agenda.

The defeat of SB 20 was a bright spot in the session — though the federal and Texas bans on insurance coverage for abortion in public insurance programs remain in place.

The passage of the unconstitutional, anti-immigrant Senate Bill 4 was a major loss; this “show me your papers” bill threatens to turn local police officers into deportation forces and to remove local officials who refuse to betray their immigrant neighbors. This bill will make it more difficult for immigrants and undocumented people to access abortion care and other reproductive health services due to fear of deportation and discrimination.

Laws that push abortion out of reach and contribute to a climate of fear and repression have a profound impact in a state where access to health care for many is tenuous or nonexistent. For example, just last year, the Lilith Fund heard from more than 6,000 people in Texas who needed abortions they couldn’t afford. The majority of the callers were low-income women of color working to make ends meet and care for their families.

Instead of wasting time and resources trying to push abortion out of reach with unconstitutional, costly and harmful bans, our lawmakers should focus on improving women’s and reproductive health care in our state.

The session may have ended with yet another step backward for abortion access in our state, but the movement to support and respect Texans’ decisions and health care is growing every day. Texans showed up, participated in bold acts of resistance and shared their stories. We worked together to fight attacks on human rights on many levels — immigrant rights, abortion access, LGBTQ equality and more. This session showed a glimpse of what can happen when creativity, collaboration and passion for justice meet. And this is just the beginning.

Amanda Williams

Executive director, Lilith Fund

Alexa Garcia-Ditta

Communications and Policy Initiatives director, NARAL Pro-Choice Texas