Law Students for Reproductive Justice Host Panel on Texas Abortion Bill

Law Students for Reproductive Justice and the American Constitution Society of Boston College Law School hosted a panel on Thursday to discuss the recently passed Texas Senate Bill 8 (SB 8), which prohibits the abortion of an unborn fetus with a detectable heartbeat. 

Four panelists from differing backgrounds in law and reproductive justice spoke at the Zoom event, which was attended by over 100 students, about their concerns with SB 8 in each of their fields of expertise, as well as the legal and societal impact of the bill. 

“At first, SB 8 appeared as a typical ‘heartbeat ban,’” said Aimee Arrambide, executive director of Avow Texas, a nonprofit dedicated to protecting women’s abortion rights. “But they incorporated this clever and devious mechanism for enforcement where they empower and deputize people seeking and providing birth control.”

According to the Texas Policy Evaluation Project at the University of Texas at Austin, SB 8 prohibits physicians from providing abortion care if fetal heart tones are detected, which can occur between five to six weeks after conception with an ultrasound. SB 8 also includes a private cause of action that permits citizens to sue a person who provides or “aids and abets” an abortion after approximately six weeks of gestation.

“The irony [is] Texas taking all these steps but not actually taking any real steps to help people who want to have children in the state,” Gretchen Borchelt, vice president for reproductive rights and health at the National Women’s Law Center, said. “In the same legislation they passed SB 8, [they] refused to provide Medicaid. Texas is not actually helping people who are pregnant.” 

Borchelt noted how the goal of the bill was to enact a law separate from the court system, encouraging private citizens to act in a way that states cannot.

“What makes SB 8 unique is the deliberate, contrived, intentional effort,” said Steve Vladeck, CNN Supreme Court analyst and professor at the University of Texas School of Law. “Transferring enforcement to private parties is a deliberate attempt to ensure that the law is not for review.” 

Vladeck further explained the logistics of the bill and how it operates in the courts, emphasizing the procedural aspects of how U.S. District Court Judge Robert L. Pitman’s recent 113-page ruling is successful in enacting the Supreme Court to respond to the bill.

“Texas has already filed an appeal to the Fifth Circuit,” Vladeck said. “They are the most conservative circuit in the country and have to look pretty far to the left to see the Supreme Court.”

In Vladecks’ opinion, those who designed SB 8 do not actually want it to be enforced.

“[It] gives the providers a forum for challenging constitutionality,” Vladeck said. “They’re chilling providers out of services.”

Extending this idea, Borchelt said that there is no meaningful constitutional right to abortion without access.

“There were 28 restrictions in place in Texas before SB 8 passed,” Arrambide said. “It was already difficult to access, especially for minorities. This bill wreaks havoc on abortion rights and clinics are now flooded with people requesting to receive access out of state. The people of Texas are confused, isolated, and afraid.”

Elizabeth Janiak, an assistant professor at Harvard Medical School and director of social science research at Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts, said that one major finding of research is that all abortion restrictions lead to more abortions and negatively impact women’s safety.

Janiack referenced Amanda Jean Stevenson’s recent study that estimated that the annual number of pregnancy-related deaths would increase by 21 percent overall by the second year after a ban.

“The mortality rate of carrying a pregnancy to term is 10 times more likely than abortion mortality,” Janiack said. “This will fall dispproportionately on women of color, the poor, and the young in addition to maternal mortality from unsafe abortions.”

After the panel opened to student questions, the moderator asked for final thoughts or any beacon of hope from the panelists. Each panelist commented on the effort of young people and those in attendance at the event.

“My optimistic note is how many of you are in the room,” Vladeck said. “I don’t know if we’ll win this particular battle, but we’re preparing for the war.”

Featured Image by Ikram Ali / Heights Editor

October 17, 2021