50.50: Opinion

Don’t be fooled: the new Texas ban is cruel, but it won’t end abortions

Did a little bird tell you that women are obedient and law-abiding, and always do what they’re told? It’s time to shoot that bird

Claire Provost author pic
Claire Provost
2 September 2021, 3.53pm
Protest for legal abortion rights in Austin, Texas, May 2021
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ZUMA Press, Inc. / Alamy Stock Photo. All rights reserved

The new ban in Texas on abortions after the detection of cardiac activity – usually around six weeks, when many women don’t even know they’re pregnant – is rightfully dominating headlines around the world.

It is an extreme and cruel ban. And it includes clauses that effectively turn private citizens into bounty hunters, with ‘prizes’ of up to $10,000 for catching doctors who break the law (or anyone who helps a woman end a pregnancy after this point).

It is also a reflection of how Trump’s legacy is still shaping American lives – it is the Supreme Court he created that enabled the ban to go through earlier this week.

But, don’t be fooled: it will not end abortions in the third-most populous US state. And if other states follow suit, such bans won’t end abortion there either.

If you thought otherwise, did a little bird tell you that women are all obedient and law-abiding, and always do what they’re told? If so, it’s time to shoot that bird.

The truth is that women around the world end pregnancies, regardless of what the law in their country says. Even where abortion is criminalised. Even where they could face severe prison sentences if they are caught.

Women in the US have been preparing for the end of Roe vs Wade for many years

In the US, women have already had to struggle in many places, for many years, to access legal abortion services. Some travel long distances to find a clinic. Others opt for self-managed abortion care, accessing medical abortion pills online.

Women have also been preparing for the end of Roe vs Wade – the 1973 Supreme Court judgement that legalised abortion across the US – for many years.

In 2019, journalist and reproductive rights advocate Robin Marty published a Handbook for a Post-Roe America. This week – because of the news from Texas – its publisher has made e-copies of the book free to download.

“This is exactly the scenario we always feared,” Marty said about the Texas law: “Strangers deputised as an anti-abortion crime watch, creating a massive surveillance system to ensure every pregnant person gives birth [...] or goes to jail.”

Her book is written as a user-friendly manual, including step-by-step lists, on how to access abortion – even in situations like Texas. The aim is for women to get “the healthcare you need – by any means necessary”.

This includes “how to acquire financial support, how to use existing networks and create new ones, and how to, when required, work outside existing legal systems.”

Let that sink in. Even outside the law. By any means necessary. This is the spirit of today’s women – and the women who came before us – around the world. You cannot take away our freedoms that easily. You cannot expect us to obey.

Take the example of Poland

The cruelty of the Texas ban will fall hardest on the impoverished and vulnerable – those without access to resources (for example, to travel) or information (to treat and protect themselves). It is draconian, for sure. But it will not work as intended.

Women, and feminist movements, will without a doubt step up and work long hours to help those who need it, as they have done around the world.

Look at Poland. A whole country of nearly 38 million people, compared to 29 mllion in Texas, is under an almost-total ban on abortion after a constitutional court ruling last October (in which Trump-linked US lawyers intervened to support restrictions). This ruling made abortion illegal even in cases of fatal foetal anomalies.

Within six months, Abortion Without Borders – a network of rights activists across Europe – said it had already helped more than 17,000 Polish women with information and, in some cases, support to travel for abortions abroad.

This is hard work that shouldn’t have to happen. Restrictions on legal abortions are cruel because they make accessing healthcare a much harder task – particularly for people who are already disadvantaged by class, race or other issues.

The bottom line is: bans like the one just passed in Texas only ‘work’ if the goal is to punish poor women in particular. But they do not end abortions. Women are tougher than conservative legislators would like. We don’t always follow rules.

Empower and protect, don’t prohibit: a better approach to child work

Bans on child labour don’t work because they ignore why children work in the first place. That is why the International Year for the Elimination of Child Labour will fail.

If we truly care about working children, we need to start trying to keep them safe in work rather than insisting that they end work entirely. Our panelists, all advocates for child workers, offer us a new way forward.

Join us for this free live event at 5pm UK time on Thursday 28 October.

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