On Wednesday September 1, a new Texas Abortion Law entered into force. The law prohibits abortions when fetal heart activity can be detected – an event that occurs around five to six weeks in pregnancy. Despite the 1973 Supreme Court ruling Roe vs. Wade, which established an affirmative constitutional right to procedure, citizens across the state will now be barred from requesting one before they even know they are pregnant. The application of such a law, as well as its failure to be challenged so far on a legal basis, shows the continuing need for vigilant advocacy for reproductive rights, and acts as a heartbreaking reminder of the fragility of the freedoms that have been so hard won.
Texas’ new abortion law provides another example of the unreasonable and burdensome expectations placed on those who are able to get pregnant, not only to be solely responsible, but also potentially punished, for their reproductive abilities. It is important to understand that this cardiac activity from which lawmakers derive their justification may not even consist of a heartbeat, as the heart is not fully formed at this stage. Most don’t even know they are pregnant after six weeks, since a full cycle lasts four weeks. Even if a person who got pregnant decided to get a pregnancy test after missing their period, they would only have two weeks to make a pretty big decision about whether to continue the pregnancy, find a clinic to undergo the procedure. in the event that they decide not to go ahead and raise the necessary funds to pay for an abortion.
This law not only exhibits a reluctance to ease the burden on those who are capable of becoming pregnant, but is also an active intention to push vulnerable people into situations of immense financial hardship or emotional and psychological anguish. The law makes no exceptions for victims of rape or incest, and allows an extension of the established deadline only for those with a clear and obvious risk of endangering their lives – a very narrow criterion. Those who cannot raise the funds necessary to undergo the procedure within the tight six weeks, or who are simply unable to provide for a child, are also made vulnerable by a law that does not provide for any safety net for disadvantaged people.
Finally, this law reveals flaws in the legal system, proving that even the Supreme Court decision of 1973 Roe vs. Wade, which allegedly asserts a constitutional right to abortion, is fallible. While Roe vs. Wade prohibits states from banning abortions before “fetal viability” – something that does not happen until about week 22, when the fetus can “exist outside the womb” – this law prohibits abortions after only six weeks.
In addition, this law reveals the inability of the justice system to protect constitutional rights. He calls on the citizens of Texas to sue anyone who aids or encourages an abortion, including clinics, doctors, even the Uber driver who provides transportation for the person requesting the procedure. By making citizens the enforcers of the law rather than branding abortion a state crime, politicians have effectively circumvented the precedent set by Roe vs. Wade.
The application of this law, as well as the failure of the Supreme Court to block it, shows that certain constitutional rights are still not guaranteed. This demonstrates the need for activism, for members of our own Princeton community, although not explicitly affected by Texas law themselves, to defend these rights. We need to engage with student groups such as Princeton Students for Reproductive Justice (PSRJ) and lobby our local representatives to support policies that guarantee reproductive rights. This type of legislation is a slippery slope – the successful application of a law opens the door to many more legal challenges in Roe vs. Wade, meaning that an individual’s right to make choices about their own body remains something we must constantly strive to affirm.
Claudia Frykberg is a senior in the English department. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.