Explainer: What is the Texas abortion law?

What is it? Why does it matter? How might it impact women’s health?

On September 1, 2021, A Texas law went into effect that banned most abortions after roughly six weeks of pregnancy—which is well before many women even recognize they are pregnant. Since the Supreme Court ruled that abortion was a constitutional right, Texas has been labeled as having the most restrictive state regarding access to abortion resources. 

The Texas abortion law does not allow state officials to enforce the law, which will make it very difficult to challenge the law in court. The law was specifically drafted to evade legal challenge. Individuals—including those currently living outside of Texas—are encouraged to privately sue abortion clinics and doctors found administering abortions after the six-week mark. “These lawsuits are not against the women, the lawsuits would be against the individuals making money off the abortion, the abortion industry itself,” said John Seagoing with Texas Right to Life, according to NPR

Those who gave the woman a ride to the clinic or even those who helped financially for the abortion are held equally responsible as the doctor and could be sued if exposed. If the citizen’s lawsuit is successful, a minimum of $10,000 would be rewarded per illegal abortion. 

The law bans legal abortions once heart activity is detected, which usually happens at about six weeks into the pregnancy, according to The New York Times. This is long before the point of viability, which is the point where an unborn baby could live outside the womb. This is also long before many women even realize their pregnancy, as it is common for a woman to figure out she is pregnant around 7-9 weeks. If a woman has simply not realized she is pregnant at six weeks, she has completely missed her chance to get a legal abortion in Texas. 

The other serious problem with the cutoff for legal abortions is the fact that 99% of most women, according to Yale Medicine, do not find out they are pregnant until about four to five weeks. The six-week cutoff only gives about a one to two week window for a woman to recognize the pregnancy, confirm the pregnancy with a test, get an ultrasound, and then make a decision on abortion. “Forcing them to find out about a pregnancy and make a decision about how to manage it in such a short period of time is antithetical to ethical care,” said Dr. Jennifer Villavicencio, lead for equity transformation at the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecologists, according to The New York Times

The law, almost an absolute ban on abortions, does not even make exceptions for girls or women who are pregnant from the result of rape or incest. It does permit abortions after the six-week mark for extreme health issues, only allowing if the mother’s life is in danger. “These are very narrow exceptions. The language does not cover every instance in which a woman’s health might be at risk,” said Dr. Villavicencio. 

The Texas abortion law will not stop women in Texas from getting abortions. It will only lead the women who are not eligible for legal, medical abortions to resort to extremely unsafe ways of at-home abortion. By attempting to preform an at-home abortion, the result can be extreme injury or death for the mother. Dr Abigail Aiken, expert on self-managed abortions said that it will be common that women might resort to something unsafe, according to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram

Currently in Texas, it is unclear how many pregnant women will leave the state for a medical abortion, continue their pregnancies, or self-manage their abortions at home. Multiple court challenges to the law are underway, and abortion and women’s rights groups have organized protests and demonstrations in Texas, showing their opposition to the law. If federal courts allow this law to stay in the long run, it is very likely that other extremely conservative states will work towards passing similar laws, according to NPR.