The world has witnessed the newest assault on women’s fundamental rights. While some of the harshest conditions women face arise in third world countries, areas of conflict, and regions rife with religious persecution, the newest attack on women has come from the very heart of democracy itself – America.
The US state of Texas has passed SB8, also known as the Texas Heartbeat Act, which makes it illegal for an abortion to be carried out following the detection of a “foetal heartbeat”. The new law will make having an abortion after 6 weeks of pregnancy illegal and most likely impossible as well. The passing of SB8 means that pregnant women have the option of abortion taken away from them before they even know they are pregnant.
The deep south has a long and turbulent relationship with abortion law. Competing movements known as “Pro-choice” and “Pro-life” have been well known for a number of years as they fight for what they believe in. Unfortunately, reason was abandoned some time ago and the debate has fallen into a state of opinion disguised as fact. For instance, SB8 distinctly refers to a “foetal heartbeat” and suggests that once this is detected, an abortion cannot go ahead. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists has said that this term is misleading however, and that the supposed heartbeat is in fact a portion of foetal tissue “that will become the heart as the embryo develops”.
Indeed, the argument that an abortion cannot be carried out because the presence of a heartbeat constitutes life is one based in opinion. Other arguments would suggest that the presence of a heartbeat is insufficient to constitute life. In fact, by week 11 (nearly twice the time permitted for an abortion under SB8) a foetus will only measure about 2 inches long, which is the length of the short side of a credit card. A foetus, heartbeat or not, is unable to survive outside of the womb, and this fact presents the basis of many arguments suggesting that a woman’s right to choose trumps state intervention into the issue of abortion.
Infringing a woman’s right to choose is just one of the reasons that this new law is dangerous, however. SB8 is set to make access to safe abortion impossible throughout the state of Texas. Logic dictates that the number of people wanting to have an abortion will not fluctuate in line with the availability of safe abortion facilities, but rather with their opinions about having a child at any given time. Therefore, SB8 has created the perfect conditions for a rise in backstreet abortions and an increase in deaths caused by such procedures.
With this in mind, legislators who claim that the new law will “save lives” probably have not considered the negative impacts of this policy in great detail. One legislative associate at Texas Right to Life, Rebecca Parma, said that:
She refers to the lawsuits which have been filed against this law and the numerous legal challenges which are ongoing surrounding SB8. When it comes to saving lives, those like Parma may have their reasons for disliking abortion, but the jury is still out on whether this policy will actually save lives. Parma is right about one thing, however. SB8 is an historic policy. For the first time in many years, the US state has decided to take power away from individuals when it concerns their own health and wellbeing. An historic move, but also quite hypocritical from the state which leads the world in private healthcare spending because of its utterly inadequate public health provisions.
The USA is a nation where you can do practically anything as long as you have enough money. You can turn yourself into a doppelganger of Katie Price if you have enough money and time. In Texas, you can even openly carry a firearm without a permit or training. While some laws are clearly a bad idea, and some rights should come with a recommendation that “just because you can does not mean you should…”, the newest legislation on abortion in Texas will cost lives and can be deemed unconstitutional.
The United States is a nation built on the idea of freedom. It was one of the world’s first democracies and remains one of the strongest today. It has more wealth than any other country in the entire world. The fundamental underpinning of a country like the US is individual freedom. The ability of anyone to have their say about anything. The notion that people’s autonomy and decision-making ability about their own destiny is intrinsically their own responsibility. I am sad to write that the page has been turned on democratic America. The state has begun to wade into the decisions of individual citizens and erode the power that they hold over their own being. Time will only tell whether this decision is upheld in the long run, but the lives of many depend on this law being quashed. If America is to remain the land of the free then it needs to champion freedom, not take it away.
Written by Isaac Knowles
Isaac Knowles is a columnist at DecipherGrey.