If you’re ever in Berlin, a visit to the Stasi Museum is highly recommended. It’s chilling to learn how the East German secret police turned upward of 200,000 citizens into informants who would rat on their neighbours and family for various reasons – out of fear, or ideological zeal, or hope of advancement.
You’d hardly think Texas would find kinship with a Communist state, but here we are: With its new law that bans abortions after six weeks, Texas has been turned into a state of anti-woman snitches. Any private citizen can launch a lawsuit against a person who “aids or abets” an abortion, with a prize of US$10,000 and reimbursed legal fees at the end.
“It’s unbelievable,” said Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota about the law, the most restrictive of its kind in the land. But it really isn’t unbelievable at all, because abortion foes have been restricting access to this legal procedure for decades, fighting inch by inch to repeal the protection offered by the 1973 ruling of Roe v. Wade. According to the Guttmacher Institute, 2021 has been “the worst legislative year ever for U.S. abortion rights,” and the year’s not even over. Anti-choice crusaders plan for the long game – not just in the United States, but in Canada, too.
Women and trans men who are seeking an abortion in Texas have every right to feel abandoned. They will now have to seek procedures out of state, something that’s often unfeasible or prohibitively expensive, especially for marginalized people. They’ve been abandoned by their own state government, by the Texas-based corporations that have been shamefully silent, and by the U.S. Supreme Court, which refused to grant an emergency injunction to block the new law. (In a fiery dissent, Justice Sonia Sotomayor called the legislation “a flagrantly unconstitutional law engineered to prohibit women from exercising their constitutional rights.”)
So if abortion opponents are fighting the long game, what are their next moves? That’s the most alarming part. They’re clearly emboldened by the success of Texas’s Republican-governed assembly. Legislators in several states, including Florida, Arkansas and South Dakota, have announced plans to follow in Texas’s footsteps, each battling the other to restrict women’s constitutional freedoms the most. Oklahoma’s three new abortion laws, which are almost as restrictive as the ones in Texas, come into effect in November. According to the Guttmacher Institute, more than 90 restrictive abortion laws have been passed in 2021.
The goal of this decades-long campaign is to make it harder and harder for people to access abortions. Advocates won’t be happy until the Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade, the ruling that recognizes a woman’s constitutional right to end a pregnancy. These restrictive state laws are designed to provoke constitutional challenges that will come before the Supreme Court. And judging by the conservative leaning of the majority, and the court’s refusal to block the Texas law, this is a completely legitimate fear for the inhabitants of Gilead – I mean, the citizens of the United States. We’ll find out soon enough: This fall, the fate of the 1973 decision may be determined when the Supreme Court considers the legality of Mississippi’s restrictive abortion law.
Meanwhile, defenders of reproductive rights are working furiously to keep women’s bodies in the 21st century. A bill before Congress, the Women’s Health Protection Act, would guarantee women’s rights to abortion care, although it seems to have limited chance of passing. And across the country, advocates are fighting to find safe services out of state for women in Texas who need assistance right now.
The lessons from our southern neighbour are clear: It’s imperative to be vigilant about any incursions into reproductive freedoms, no matter how innocuous they seem at first. Canada does not yet face a crisis like the U.S., but abortion provisions need to be expanded and protected here, especially when it comes to access for rural women or those in underserved parts of the country.
One thing we can do, especially during an election campaign, is ask local candidates and party leaders how they’re going to guarantee abortion access, and what limitations they will place on anti-choice candidates. (The Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada has a good checklist.)
As this fight plays out among lawmakers and the courts, it’s easy to forget who is going to be most harmed by these restricted rights. It will be women – the sisters and daughters of people who are expected to snitch on the abortion providers helping them. It’s a war on women, usually the most vulnerable women, and it always has been. Don’t forget that.
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