After multiple protests, a filibuster, and two special sessions to ram it through, Gov. Rick Perry signed what is probably the worst abortion bill in the country Thursday. This comes as no surprise, as Perry is wholly owned by the religious right and has been running around defending this bill with the condescension phasers set to high. So what’s next for Texas, now that a bill that’s set to eliminate 37 out of 42 clinics in the state—and all the clinics in West Texas—is law?
Let’s be clear: The clinics aren’t just going to shut their doors and give up. While it hasn’t been announced yet, there will almost surely be a team of lawyers from nonprofits and the clinics themselves suing the state of Texas on the grounds that the new law violates the 1992 Supreme Court decision Planned Parenthood v Casey. In that decision, the court said that it was permissible for states to pass abortion restrictions as long as they didn’t present an “undue burden” on a woman’s access to abortion. Mississippi and Kansas attempted similar schemes to shut down abortion clinics, and the courts blocked those laws under the Supreme Court guidelines.
Of course, Texas anti-choicers won’t give up, either. One of the reasons that there’s been such a full-court press lately by Republicans in the states to pass draconian abortion restrictions is that there’s a hope in anti-choice land that they can get a case before the Supreme Court. The last abortion case before the Supreme Court, Gonzales v. Carhart, which banned the safest method to perform very late-term abortions (mostly for medical reasons), broke in favor of the anti-choice argument. Better yet for anti-choice hopes, the decision, written by Justice Anthony Kennedy, basically ignored the testimony of medical experts on the issue and instead bought into the anti-choice claim that abortion needs to be banned for women’s own good. Slate’s Dahlia Lithwick explained:
Justice Anthony Kennedy’s majority opinion is less about the scope of abortion regulation than an announcement of an astonishing new test: Hereinafter, on the morally and legally thorny question of abortion, the proposed rule should be weighed against the gauzy sensitivities of that iconic literary creature: the Inconstant Female.
Kennedy invokes The Woman Who Changed Her Mind not once, but twice today. His opinion is a love song to all women who regret their abortions after the fact, and it is in the service of these women that he justifies upholding the ban. Today’s holding is a strange reworking of Taming of the Shrew, with Kennedy playing an all-knowing Baptista to a nation of fickle Biancas.
Kennedy’s decision laid out a path for eliminating most-to-all safe, legal abortion in conservatives states: pass a bunch of medically unnecessary regulations that either shut down clinics or price most women out of the abortion market. Claim that it’s being done for women’s own good, either to make abortion safer or to protect them against the possibility that they may regret their choice later. Don’t worry about the scientific or medical evidence, because Kennedy doesn’t care either. Weep crocodile tears for the mostly imaginary women hurt by abortion and hope that overwhelms Kennedy’s rational mind.
With this in mind, it’s entirely possible that these regulations will go into effect in Texas in a few years and be copied around the nation. This doesn’t mean that abortion will go away, of course, no matter how much anti-choicers try to convince themselves otherwise. Blue states will still have legal abortion, and wealthy women in red states will travel to blue states to get their abortions. Less wealthy women, on the other hand, have already started to share knowledge about an underground market in Cytotec, an ulcer medication available over-the-counter in Mexico that induces miscarriage. You can buy it at pharmacies if you can get to Mexico, though some versions of the pill (and some that are surely knock-offs that don’t work right) are being sold at flea markets. For those who can’t get down to Mexico, there’s always the Internet. Of course, taking medications off-label without medical supervision—or worse, taking something that may not be what it purports to be—is dangerous, and women will likely start showing up in emergency rooms looking for help with incomplete, self-induced abortions. We know this because they’re already showing up with these problems in abortion clinics. But when the clinics go away, emergency rooms will be the only “choice.”
And what will the anti-choice activists be doing? Presumably fantasizing that all these women they denied abortion access to are floating angelically in softly lit nurseries, awash in joy and grateful that they were forced to have babies they only thought they didn’t want.