The Observer view on the Texas abortion ban


Show caption Protesters campaign against the six-week abortion ban at the Capitol in Austin, Texas. Photograph: Jay Janner/AP Opinion The Observer view on the Texas abortion ban The insidious oppression of women across the world must not be ignored Observer editorial Sun 5 Sep 2021 06.00 BST Share on Facebook

Share on Twitter

Share via Email

Last Wednesday, a near-total ban on abortion was implemented in Texas. Women are now prevented from getting an abortion six weeks after conception (a point at which many women do not even realise they are pregnant), even in cases of rape or incest. It is the latest, and most extensive, erosion of women’s reproductive rights that has long been championed by the US religious right. In the words of Justice Sonia Sotomayer – in a dissenting opinion to the supreme court’s decision to allow the law to be implemented while its constitutionality is determined in the coming years – it is a “breathtaking act of defiance of the constitution… and of the rights of women seeking abortion throughout Texas”.

The consequences for women living in the second most populous state in the US will be devastating. It is estimated the law will prevent 85% of Texan women who want an abortion from accessing one in the state; for the vast majority of these women who cannot afford the time and resources required to travel out of state, this means they will be unable to access safe abortion at all. In a shocking contravention of their human rights, women with unwanted pregnancies will be forced to carry them to term and undergo the danger and trauma of childbirth.

A wealth of international evidence shows the futility of banning abortion; rates are no lower in countries where it is illegal or severely restricted, but many more women die as a result of being forced to seek illegal and unsafe procedures. The only way to effectively reduce abortion rates is by expanding women’s access to contraception, yet conservatives in the US have consistently sought to limit their access to free birth control.

The way that Texas legislators have sought to get around the unconstitutionality of their ban is chilling in the extreme. Rather than leaving enforcement of the ban up to the state, the legislation allows anybody in the world to sue those involved in providing abortion care or practical support to women seeking abortion for at least $10,000 plus legal costs.

The law is framed so broadly that anyone who could be construed to have aided a woman in getting an abortion – from a friend offering advice to a taxi driver picking them up for an appointment – could fall foul of these provisions. This is an insidious and misogynist way of targeting women and the support networks they need to rely on if they find themselves needing an abortion.

The consequences are likely to extend far beyond Texas: Republicans in six more states are preparing to rush through bills based on the Texas law. And the anti-women’s rights majority that now exists on the supreme court puts a woman’s constitutional right to abortion, established back in 1973, at risk.

The patriarchal forces that seek to control women and their bodies are embedded everywhere

It is perhaps tempting to look at the dire situation facing women in Afghanistan, where the Taliban’s takeover has put women in extreme mortal danger, and feel uncomplicated relief that in liberal democracies such as the United States women’s freedoms will never face the same extraordinary level of threat from male fundamentalists. Yet the Texas ban – and threats to women’s reproductive freedoms from authoritarian leaders within the EU – highlight that taking the hard-fought gains of second-wave feminists for granted is risky in the extreme.

Civil rights struggles rarely stand still: history shows us that momentous achievements, such as the popular vote to legalise abortion in Ireland in 2018, are often punctuated with periods where recently won rights are eroded. Women across the world continue to be oppressed on the basis of their reproductive biology: the patriarchal forces that seek to control women and their bodies are embedded everywhere. Preventing things from slipping backwards, let alone achieving progress, is a fight in and of itself.

Here in the United Kingdom, women enjoy a better range of legal protections than in the US, where there is no right to paid time off work after having a baby or universal access to free childcare or healthcare. But in Northern Ireland, women are still struggling to access abortion services despite abortion being legalised almost two years ago. A woman is killed by a man every three days, yet there remains a huge shortfall in domestic abuse services for women who experience male violence, while the women’s prison estate is filled with domestic abuse survivors. Rape convictions are at a historic low, effectively decriminalising male violence against women.

Those women considered by men to be past their sexual prime face a particularly toxic blend of sexism and ageism in workplaces, in their communities and in our public discourse.

The Texas abortion ban shows how vulnerable women’s rights can be even in the richest liberal democracies. In societies such as the US and the UK, women have immeasurably more freedom than they did a century ago and still do in many parts of the world. Yet there is nowhere in the world where women are truly free from the burden of patriarchal oppression. We ignore that at our peril.

{{topLeft}} {{bottomLeft}} {{topRight}} {{bottomRight}} {{/goalExceededMarkerPercentage}} {{#goalExceededMarkerPercentage}}{{/goalExceededMarkerPercentage}} {{heading}} {{#paragraphs}} {{#ticker}}{{/ticker}}{{#paragraphs}} {{.}} {{/paragraphs}} {{highlightedText}}

{{#cta}} {{text}} {{/cta}} Remind me in November Email address Please enter a valid email address Please enter your email address Set a reminder Sorry we couldn’t set a reminder for you this time. Please try again later. We will send you a maximum of two emails in November 2021. To find out what personal data we collect and how we use it, view our Privacy Policy We will be in touch to remind you to contribute. Look out for a message in your inbox in November 2021. If you have any questions about contributing, please contact us {{/paragraphs}}