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Texas to Completely Ban Abortions if Roe v. Wade Overturned

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Texas law book | Image by Vitalii Vodolazskyi

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A news report from Monday night indicated that the U.S. Supreme Court appears set to overturn the Roe v. Wade decision. Due to “trigger laws” passed by the Texas Legislature last year, abortion would immediately become illegal at the state level in Texas.

No official decision has been made in the Mississippi case concerning a ban on abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy, which has already been argued before the Court. However, a leak of a February 10 draft written by Justice Samuel Alito and obtained by Politico indicated that overturning the decision was likely.

Roe v. Wade was initially decided in January 1973 and ruled abortion legal. Since then, the decision has withstood multiple challenges, but changes among members of the Supreme Court have led to a greater likelihood that the nine justices would overturn the precedent.

Overturning the case would not ban abortions nationwide but return the authority to legislate the procedure to each state. Currently, Texas law prohibits abortion after six weeks through civil enforcement by allowing private citizens to file a lawsuit against anyone who aids a woman seeking an abortion in violation of the law.

However, last year, the Texas State Legislature passed what is known as a “trigger law.” The law will go into effect after 30 days if the Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade, and would officially make most abortions a felony within the state.

If the law is triggered, it will only allow two situations for a woman can obtain an abortion. These involve if the woman’s life is in danger or if there is a risk of what is described as “substantial impairment of major bodily function.” Violations would deliver severe penalties for doctors performing illegal abortions within the state. These include fines of up to a maximum of $100,000 and possible life imprisonment.

Some of the more controversial aspects of that law would make abortion unavailable to females who become pregnant through rape or incest. In addition, the procedure would not be allowed for cases of severe birth defects.

One indication of how dramatic of a change the near-total ban on abortions in Texas would be for women can be seen in research compiled by the pro-abortion group the Guttmacher Institute.

That research indicated that a woman in Texas would have to travel an average of 525 miles each way to obtain an abortion, the third-longest distance in the country, behind Louisiana and Florida. Oklahoma, Louisiana, and Arkansas — three of Texas’ four border states — have similar “trigger laws.” In total, thirteen U.S. states have “trigger laws” in place.

Amy Hagstrom Miller, president and CEO of Whole Woman’s Health, which operates four clinics in Texas, said people must realize that this is not a final ruling.

“When news like this comes out, it confuses people and scares people, and I think there are people who will read these stories and think that abortion is already illegal,” said Hagstrom Miller. “I think it’s important for us to speak to these people and let them know this isn’t final, and at least for now, we can still offer them the care they deserve.”

The numbers show that overturning Roe v. Wade is not supported by a large majority of people. In February, a University of Texas poll found that 40% of Texans surveyed “strongly oppose” a law banning all abortions, including 20% of Republicans. Another 13% of respondents said they “somewhat oppose” a law to ban abortions. Only 20% of respondents — including 33% of Republicans — said they “strongly support” a total ban.

Anti-abortion advocates are hopeful about the potential change, but they remain wary as the leaked draft could be discarded before an official ruling is made.

“We’ve been burnt before,” said Texas Alliance for Life executive director Joe Pojman, “I’m waiting to see the final opinion.”

“Assuming the draft is legitimate, I’m reminding myself that this is far from the Court’s final opinion,” Pojman said. “So it’s encouraging, but it is not definitive in my mind at all.”

John Seago, legislative director for Texas Right to Life, said the fight is “not done yet.”

“This was probably leaked to put pressure on the justices, to cause backlash that would possibly make them take a step back from this categorical victory for the pro-life side,” he said. “That’s what we’re concerned about, and [we] won’t fully celebrate until we see the final opinion actually released.”

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