On Monday, November 1, 2021, we heard arguments before the Supreme Court in two cases related to Texas SB8, a draconian abortion ban that upends longstanding precedent by banning abortion after approximately six weeks of pregnancy. SB8 deputizes private citizens to sue providers and anyone who “aids and abets” abortion procedures in Texas, incentivizing bounty hunters with monetary rewards of at least $10,000 to pursue such lawsuits.
We did not have to go to a haunted house this Halloween season because the last two months since SB8 took effect have been tumultuous and terrifying. First, SB8 took effect on September 1 after the Supreme Court failed to block the law. Then, in a separate lawsuit brought by the Department of Justice, District Court Judge Pitman (in an absolutely fire decision) blocked the law on Wednesday, October 6th; that decision was (unsurprisingly and devastatingly) reinstated by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals just two days later on Friday, October 8th; and then, on October 25, 2021, the Supreme Court granted certiorari to consider arguments in two SB8 cases eleven days later, which is what happened yesterday. This means that, except for a 48-hour window between October 6th and 8th, Texas has effectively banned abortion since September 1.
Since SB8 has gone into effect, people in Texas have been impacted in a range of devastating ways:
- Recent data shows a dramatic decrease in Texas-based abortion care, as the number of abortions fell by half after SB8 took effect. Half of those unable to get abortion care at Texas clinics ended up getting one another way, usually by traveling long distances to another state.
- The average one-way distance for a Texas woman of reproductive age to reach the nearest clinic is now 230 miles—roughly 3.5 hours each way and a 14 times increase. There are so many stories of long travels for care, with out-of-state providers reportedly seeing Texas patients that have traveled an average of 650 miles one way to access abortion out of state.
- Rises in Texas patients visiting out-of-state clinics are causing delays in local access to care, with provider networks anticipating up to a 350% monthly increase in expected Texas patient volume. One Oklahoma provider reported a staggering 646% increase in Texan patients per day.
- SB8 has significantly impacted Texas providers and clinic staff forced to turn away patient after patient seeking abortion, because they don’t make the arbitrary SB 8 cutoff.
- There has been a chilling effect on care provided to at-risk pregnant people, resulting in a range of dangerous situations, including reports of providers waiting to terminate an ectopic or miscarrying pregnancy until the patient is showing fever symptoms or hemorrhaging for fear that providing care would violate SB 8. Among these disturbing accounts is the story of one patient needing to terminate a life-threatening ectopic pregnancy who had to drive 12-15 hours for out-of-state abortion care after being turned away by her Texas doctor who feared liability under SB8.
But if you listened to yesterday’s arguments, you didn’t really hear any of this. Instead, much of the arguments were caught up in procedural questions and hypotheticals. It is unfortunate that, because the questions the Supreme Court considered only dealt with legal procedure, the real-life experiences of people on the ground seeking abortion were not at the center of the debate. So today, instead of rehashing the legal issues from the oral arguments, we want to highlight the stories of pregnant Texans that went unmentioned yesterday, and their experiences navigating SB8. The following are some of the stories included in an amicus brief filed with the Supreme Court:
We want to share the story of C.Y., a 13-year-old patient whose procedure was delayed because Texas forces young people to petition a judge to get abortion care, and who was ultimately denied the care they needed under SB8 at 6 weeks and 3 days.
Let’s discuss D.O., a single mom who just escaped a “very abusive” relationship but was denied an abortion under SB8 at 5 weeks and 5 days because embryonic cardiac activity was detected.
Consider the story of E.K., a mother of 2 financially recovering from pandemic-related job loss who was denied an abortion at “exactly 6 weeks” because of SB8.
We want to share the story of Y.R., an immigrant mother of 4 living below the federal poverty level who was denied an abortion under SB8 only a few days past six-weeks. Y.R. explained that “S.B. 8 is so unjust and unfair because it attacks people like me who are low-income and can’t travel to another State to get an abortion.” She wants to tell the judges: “You are here to protect the people, and that means don’t take our rights away. This law is unjust and unfair because we as women know if we can or cannot bring life to this world.”
We could not agree more.