The new law reinforces the haves and have-nots in U.S. health care—not limited to abortion. Many transgender, non-binary, and gender-diverse patients count on reproductive health clinics for gender-affirming and otherwise culturally competent care. “We can expect a decrease in access to that [kind of care] as well, as the result of this,” Pèrez says.
Leah Torres, M.D., an ob-gyn who provides reproductive health care at West Alabama Women’s Center, a clinic owned by the Yellowhammer Fund, expects to see patients from Texas once she’s treated the ones from Louisiana. Hurricane Ida temporarily closed two of Louisiana’s three abortion clinics last week, she tells SELF, pushing patients “further and further east.”
Dr. Torres characterizes the new law as more than a ban or removal of rights. It forces people to remain pregnant against their will in an act of reproductive coercion that, in the most extreme circumstances, can kill them, she says. The risk to their lives is real in Texas (which consistently boasts one of the country’s highest maternal mortality rates) and in the United States (which continually leads the developed world in deaths from pregnancy or birth and up to one year postpartum).
The maternal mortality crisis poses an even greater risk to Black lives. Black women have a maternal mortality rate that’s at least three times higher than that of white women, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data. The disproportionality applies regardless of their income and education levels. And, contrary to anti-abortion propaganda, abortion is 14 times safer than birth, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists reiterated in a December 2020 update.
“When you force someone to give birth, you force them to undergo health and life risks and potentially die doing a thing that they didn’t want to do in the first place,” Dr. Torres says. On top of that, “the people who are going to be hit hardest also have the worst maternal health outcomes when they are pregnant and give birth.”
Dr. Torres fears Texas-style laws will cause more preventable deaths like that of Savita Halappanavar. The 31-year-old dentist died due to sepsis after an Irish hospital repeatedly denied her an abortion, the standard medical treatment for her ongoing, incomplete miscarriage.
Halappanavar’s name became a rallying cry for the successful repeal of Ireland’s near-total abortion ban in 2018. The situation in Texas—and the failure of the Supreme Court to step in—could lead to similar tragedies in the U.S., Dr. Torres says. “And it’s not going to stop with Texas.”
SB 8 encourages private citizens to act as bounty hunters by suing anyone involved in abortions.
Another major problem with the Texas law is that it allows abortion “bounty hunters” to sue anyone who aids in an abortion procedure after the six-week mark—and it encourages them to take a wide interpretation of who that might include.
“For lawyers, in particular, who know what it means to be involved in a civil lawsuit, this is really alarming because even a frivolous lawsuit has to be responded to,” Diaz-Tello says. Cases without merit are still a drain on time, money, and energy, she says, and are certain to involve and at the very least stigmatize people who have abortions.
And even though SB 8 exempts pregnant people from criminal prosecution, experts say there are still plenty of ways for them to still be targeted or intimidated out of seeking care. State and local prosecutors can drum up all sorts of charges, such as the improper burial of fetal remains. “The name of the crime doesn’t have to be ‘abortion’ for a person to be criminally prosecuted for an abortion,” Diaz-Tello says.
If you want to help in the wake of SB 8, think locally.
While Roe affirmed the right to abortion, it never guaranteed that people could exercise their right. Access remains disproportionately out of reach for many people with low incomes and people of color in every U.S. state and territory.