Last week, Texas Governor Greg Abbott signed off on a wide-ranging anti-abortion bill that some say flies in the face of a federal court order.
According to the The Huffington Post, Senate Bill 8 (or SB8) collapses an array of abortion rights. For example, the bill bans dilation and evacuation (D&E) procedures, a safe method that is often used during second trimester abortions. Pregnancies are only infrequently terminated after the first trimester — just 11 percent of all abortions are performed after the 12th week — but by banning D&E, Texas has effectively outlawed second-trimester abortions.
Physicians face up to two years in prison if they perform a criminalized procedure. But because the Texas legislature rejected an amendment that would limit the scope of people who can be prosecuted under the law, the bill may make it possible to prosecute anyone helping a woman obtain a now-illegal abortion — like friends or family members who drive a woman to a clinic.
The law also prohibits women from donating fetal tissue for the purposes of scientific research, and stipulates that medical facilities must bury or cremate female remains. The latter point is particularly thorny because the Texas federal court deemed a similar provision unconstitutional.
Last year, the Texas Department of Health and Human Services proposed a mandate that would require health care providers to cremate or bury fetuses. Abortion providers sued, arguing that such a provision would impose an undue burden on women seeking an abortion, since it would drive up the cost of the procedure. U.S. District Court Judge Sam Sparks agreed. In his ruling blocking the mandate, Judge Sparks wrote that the rule would allow the department “to exercise arbitrary, and potentially discriminatory, enforcement on an issue connected to abortion.”
SB8 is disconcertingly similar to the rejected Department of Health and Human Services proposal. “Yes, the regulation was enacted legislatively rather than through an agency, but that makes no difference to the constitutional analysis,” writes Mark Joseph Stern in Slate. “The basic fact remains that, with SB8, Texas passed a law that has already been blocked by a judge.”