2021 is on track to become the worst legislative year ever for abortion rights in the U.S., with more than 560 abortion restrictions introduced in state legislatures in 47 states in the U.S., including in Texas, where the most restrictive anti-abortion law in the U.S. was enacted Sept. 1. Find out how YOU can help support, protect, and expand abortion access for all people.
UPDATE 9/24/21: The House has passed the Women’s Health Protection Act. See the roll call here.
UPDATE 9/9/21: The Department of Justice has sued Texas, challenging the constitutionality of SB8, a near-total ban on abortion in the country’s second-largest state. Read the DOJs complaint here.
2021 is on track to become the worst legislative year ever for abortion rights in the U.S., with more than 560 abortion restrictions introduced in state legislatures in 47 states in the U.S. Nearly 90 of those measures have been enacted, most in states already considered hostile to abortion rights. Four states have banned abortion at conception and another nine have blocked abortion at six weeks of pregnancy (before most know that they are pregnant). Most of these laws make no exception for victims of rape and incest. So far, only one law, SB8 in Texas, has been allowed to go into effect. SB8 bans abortions after detection of a fetal heartbeat (about six weeks), but experts say it will essentially ban all abortions in the state. It is the latest in a series of sweeping and extreme abortion restrictions passed in state legislatures that aim to give the conservative Supreme Court a path to gut or outright overturn Roe v Wade. And it may be the most concerning.
What makes the Texas law so dangerous?
Most lawsuits challenging abortion restrictions name the state official charged with enforcing the law. This not only moves the case forward, but also gives a judge the right to block the law from taking effect while the case is tried. SB8 is designed to make a challenge in federal court difficult, if not impossible, by blocking public officials from enforcing the law. Instead, the law allows private citizens to sue people who perform an abortion or “aid or abet” a patient seeking an abortion in Texas after six weeks. While the patient can’t be sued, clinicians, counselors, clinic staff members, even someone who drives a patient to a clinic can be named as a plaintiff. If they lose the lawsuit, plaintiffs will have to pay at least $10,000 in damages, plus legal fees. Anyone from any state can file the suit, even if they have no connection to the patient, the clinic, or any other plaintiff. (For more info, see this explainer from Vox.) An anti-abortion group in Texas has already set up a hotline for people to anonymously report anyone who has performed or assisted in abortion performed after six weeks and to help tipsters file a lawsuit. Just the threat of costly lawsuits is enough to force abortion clinics to close; some clinics in Texas are already turning patients away. The strategy to avoid federal court appears to be working. Just before midnight on Sept. 1, the Supreme Court refused to issue an injunction blocking the law from taking effect. The ruling was 5-4, with Chief Justice John Roberts joining the liberal minority. (Read the dissents.) More legal challenges are pending, including a suit filed Sept. 9 by the Department of Justice that asks for a permanent injunction against the law, which the DOJ says was enacted by Texas “in open defiance of the Constitution. If the courts allow the law to stand, other states are poised to enact similar legislation.
Even before the Texas law was passed, abortion rights activists were on high-alert following the Supreme Court’s decision to hear a case challenging a Mississippi law that bans abortions beginning at 15 weeks gestation, long before a fetus is viable (generally 24-26 weeks gestation). Oral arguments will be held this fall, with a ruling due next year. This is the first time the Supreme Court has agreed to hear a case concerning a pre-viability gestational age ban since Roe v Wade was decided in 1973, and Mississippi has specifically asked the court to overturn that decision. If Roe is overturned, abortion rights would be unprotected in more than half of the states and all the U.S. territories. But even if the court upholds Roe, it’s important to remember that the anti-abortion laws that most often win out over legal challenges are those that slowly chip away at access, allowing judges to claim that they “don’t cause an undue burden” to those seeking abortions. These seemingly less extreme laws, including requiring clinics to be within 15 miles of a hospital, waiting periods, and parental consent, and those prohibiting abortion procedures like D&C and telemedicine for medication abortion, can actually be the most dangerous and have led to a dramatic decrease in the number of clinics performing abortions in the U.S. In 1996, there 452 abortion clinics in the U.S. By 2014, that number had dropped to 272. Six states currently have only one abortion clinic in operation.
WHAT CAN YOU DO?
With nearly 600 abortion bans and restrictions introduced in state legislatures in 2021 alone, it’s critically important that everyone pay careful attention to what laws are in place or pending in their own state and work hard to elect abortion rights advocates at all levels of government. At the same time, we can do more to help the effort to protect access to abortion in states that are trying to eliminate it. Here’s how.
Not comfortable talking about your support for abortion access? Get comfortable. We need everyone (yes, men too) to speak out in conversations with friends and family, on social media, in letters to the editor, and in legislatures. Get caught up on abortion facts and the legal background before you start, and then follow these golden rules:
Be honest and accurate. Focusing on the realities of abortion as a part of people’s lives can counteract stigma and misinformation. Know where to point people who want to learn more.
Understand the constitutional context. An individual’s right to an abortion is based on almost 50 years of legal precedent. Understanding how the constitution protects all abortion before a fetus is viable helps people recognize how many new laws violate people’s rights.
Be non-judgmental. Believing that individuals have the right to make decisions about their own bodies means that no one abortion is more ‘justified’ than another.
Recognize diversity. No two abortions are the same; they occur in a huge variety of different socio-economic and cultural settings, and affect a wide range of people with different experiences and values.
Avoid stigmatizing language and images. Use medically-accurate terms, such as embryo and fetus, and avoid using words or images that perpetuate false stereotypes about how people feel about their abortion. And remember that not all people with a uterus identify as female. Using “pregnant people” rather than “pregnant women” is not only inclusive, it’s more accurate.
Support federal legislation
The Women’s Health Protection Act, H.R.3755/S.1975, guarantees a pregnant person’s right to access an abortion—and the right of an abortion provider to deliver these abortion services—free from medically unnecessary restrictions that interfere with a patient’s individual choice or the provider-patient relationship. Introduced in June 2021, the bill has 48 co-sponsors in the Senate and 192 in the House but will still have an uphill climb to passage. Find out if your legislators are co-sponsors (House list here and Senate list here) and if they aren’t, tell them to support the bill. Learn more from the WHPA Coalition.
Support the organizations working to remove financial and logistical barriers to abortion and those suing to block abortion bans, including:
Clinics and advocacy organizations organized by state
Support organizations working in states that only have one abortion clinic left:
The clinics and abortion advocacy groups in your state need your help, especially those that serve people of color, low income people, and the LGBTQ community. Find a list of groups in your state here.
Run for office
The best way to stop anti-abortion laws is to elect abortion rights advocates at the local, state, and national level. Get trained to run through Emerge America and support those who step up through Emily’s List.
Find trusted up-to-date information on reproductive health at these sources:
The Guttmacher Institute: tracks abortion legislation and policy and conducts research
National Abortion Federation: maintains list of all abortion clinics by state, is the professional association of abortion providers
Women Help Women: offers secure self-managed medication abortion info and support
If/When/How Helpline: offers secure legal information and support surrounding abortion
International Planned Parenthood Federation: global abortion info source
Learn more about abortion restrictions in your state
Does your state place extreme restrictions on abortion care providers? Find out HERE.
Does your state have plans to restrict or ban abortion if Roe is overturned? Find out HERE.