What's The Law

What You Need to Know about Abortion in Texas

With Friday’s overturn of Roe v. Wade, here’s what we know.

By Danielle Wright

Protesters gather near the Texas state capitol after the US Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade on Friday. June 24.

The Supreme Court on Friday officially overturned its decision in Roe v. Wade, which for almost 50 years recognized abortion as a nationwide constitutional right. The June 24 ruling allows states to ban abortion without restrictions, leaving women across the US in a state of tremendous uncertainty about their reproductive health care options. Now that we no longer have any guiding principles on the issue at the federal level, just where does abortion stand in Texas?

Before the ruling, Texas had passed a “trigger law” providing that, in the event that Roe and the related Planned Parenthood v. Casey were overturned, performing an abortion in Texas would become a felony punishable by life in prison and/or a $100,000 fine 30 days after the Supreme Court so ruled. According to Emily Berman, a professor of constitutional law at the University of Houston, this could be true for most of our neighboring states as well.

Texans seeking abortions will have to travel—potentially quite a distance—to access reproductive health care,” Berman tells Houstonia. “Texas also has a so-called ‘zombie law,’ a pre-Roe law that was never repealed, that arguably makes abortion a felony today.” 

Even before the Supreme Court ruling, while the procedure was legal in our state, women faced a number of difficulties making informed and lawful reproductive decisions. The Texas Heartbeat Act, also known as Senate Bill 8, signed into law by Gov. Abbott on September 1, 2021, prohibits abortion as long as there is a detectable heartbeat, which can appear around six weeks into pregnancy. However, most women won't be aware that they're pregnant until three to four weeks from their last period cycle, since that’s when enough HCG is present to indicate a positive result in common home pregnancy tests—allowing them perhaps a two-week window to undergo the procedure. The bill also allows private individuals to file civil lawsuits to enforce the ban, including providers, relatives, and even strangers.  

Advocates for women’s full access to reproductive care options, such as Avow Texas, found themselves in a state of shock and grief as they hosted a brief discussion Friday on what this new decision could mean for the future of reproductive care. “I’m angry, I’m devastated, and I’m tired,” said Aimee Arrambide, executive director of Avow. “I’m angry that six people decided to take away the right to abortion care from the millions of people who need or want an abortion.”

When asked what could happen to Senate Bill 8, which presumably remains the law in Texas until the trigger legislation takes effect, Dr. Bhabik Kumar said it could largely depend on the state’s attorney general, Ken Paxton. “It’s difficult to say for sure,” he said. “Given the pattern and behavior of the attorney general’s office, it’s probably very likely that he will continue or try to do whatever they can to stop people from having the care that they deserve.”

For their part, the pro-life movement celebrated a decision that for many had been a goal they’d been working toward for decades. Paxton himself expressed his elation at the decision to overturn Roe and Casey in a Tweet on Friday, writing in part, “SCOTUS just overruled Roe & Casey ending one of the most morally & legally corrupt eras in US history. Praise the Lord. Abortion is now illegal in Texas.” 

As of now, based on other states’ trigger laws passed prior to the Supreme Court’s Friday decision, abortion is already illegal in nine states, according to an analysis by the New York Times, including in three of the four states that border Texas (Oklahoma, Arkansas, and Louisiana). By late July, when Texas’s trigger law imposing a comprehensive ban on the procedure is scheduled to take effect, another seven states are poised to have joined them.

With other states having moved sharply in the opposite direction—actively expanding access to or funding for reproductive health care, or even protecting women receiving abortions in their state from prosecutions based on other states’ laws—the recent Supreme Court decision portends an era of much confusion, contention, and uncertainty for women regarding their health care options. Visit Planned Parenthood of Greater Texas to stay updated on the legal status of abortion in Texas and around the United States. 

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