On the 9th of September, the U.S. Department of Justice filed a civil lawsuit against the state of Texas’ Senate Bill 8, also known as the Texas Heartbeat Act, which came into effect on Wednesday the 31st of August. The Biden administration has said that the extreme law is “clearly unconstitutional.” The law, which was able to be pushed through due to the Republican-dominated legislature, bans most abortions once embryonic cardiac activity has been detected. In most pregnancies, this will occur at around six weeks. At this early stage in a pregnancy, many women are still unaware that they are pregnant. It came into effect last week after the Supreme Court did not respond to an emergency appeal filed by providers of abortions, according to the BBC.
Joe Biden called the Supreme Court’s decision “an unprecedented assault” on women’s rights. The lawsuit has come as part of his vow to give the issue a “whole-of-government” response after mounting pressure from the public to act. Biden has also warned that any state that tries to bring in a similar law would also be met with a lawsuit. The Department of Justice has also announced that it will provide protection for any clinics that continued to perform abortions after the heartbeat was detected, to counter the legislation that gives individuals the right to sue anyone who provides abortions past this point. The legislation does not, however, allow women who receive an abortion past six weeks to be sued.
The law has been widely criticised globally, with the chair of the UN’s working group on discrimination against women and girls, Melissa Upreti, saying “this new law will make abortion unsafe and delay, and creates a whole new set of risks for women and girls. It is profoundly discriminatory and violates a number of rights guaranteed under international law.” The UN’s Special Rapporteur on violence against women, Reem Alsakem condemned the Supreme Court’s decision’s not to act which was decided by a margin of 5-4. “Through this decision the Supreme Court of the United States has chosen to trample on the protection of women’s reproductive rights, thereby exposing them and abortion service providers to more violence.”
One of the many reasons the Act has caused anger is the absence of an exception for victims of rape or incest to be able to end an unwanted pregnancy past 6 weeks. Texas Governor Greg Abbott has justified this by saying that he intends to eliminate rape, according to USA Today. “Rape is a crime and Texas will work tirelessly to make sure we eliminate all rapists from the streets of Texas by aggressively going out and arresting them and prosecuting them and getting them off the streets.” White House press secretary, Jen Psaki, pointed out that no leader in the history of the world has been able to achieve the elimination of rape.
According to the National Sexual Violence Resource Centre, 1 in 5 women in the United States experience rape or attempted rape in their lifetime. Furthermore, 1 in 3 of these victims of rape and attempted rape are assaulted for the first time between the age of 11 and 17. In 2018, only 25% of sexual assaults and rapes were reported to the police and far fewer were actually charged. Another difficulty when it comes to eliminating rape is that most rape victims were raped by someone they know. Eliminating rape, sexual violence, and sex crimes are important goals, it is unlikely that these goals will ever be able to be fully achieved. This is just one of the many reasons women need access to safe abortions.
This act will not stop women from having abortions. Instead, it will force women, especially women from the low socio-economic class who cannot afford to travel to another state for a safe procedure, to risk their safety by attempting to perform an abortion without a medical professional and without proper equipment. Women should have the right to choose what they do with their bodies. The response by the Biden administration is encouraging, but the response of the Supreme Court and the mere fact that the Act was able to be passed in the first place shows that there is still more work to be done.
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