Right to Choose

10.29.134:45 AM ET

Texas Judge Halts Abortion Law

Sanity finally rules in Texas, says Sally Kohn, where a judge has overturned new abortion laws that severely restrict women's right to choose.

John Steinbeck once said, “Texas is a state of mind.” Yes, and sometimes that state of mind is crazy. See, for instance, when the Republican-controlled state government passed laws restricting the use of abortion-inducing pharmaceuticals and requiring that doctors providing abortion services have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of their clinic. This latter provision alone would have forced 13 of the state's 32 abortion clinics to close tomorrow, if allowed to stand —because, simply put, there ain’t that many hospitals in rural parts of the great state of Texas.

But sometimes sanity and basic common sense rear their heads even in Texas—as happened today when United States federal District Court Judge Lee Yeakel ruled that both provisions do not bear a “rational relationship to the legitimate role of the state in preserving and promoting fetal life or a woman’s health.” That is perhaps the closest, in legal mumbo-jumbo, a judge can come to calling a law plain and simple B.S.

The restrictions pushed by Republicans in Texas have nothing to do with abortion or fetal health. After all, not unsurprisingly, the minute Texas passed super-restrictive laws against abortion services, the number of women accessing illegal abortions in the state skyrocketed. And it's not like things weren’t bad enough for poor women trying to terminate their pregnancies in Texas. As Bloomberg News reports:

Women in the Lower Rio Grande Valley, along the southeastern border with Mexico, said it’s already harder for them to control their reproductive lives since the state cut funding for birth control in 2011. In the past few years, health-care providers in the valley, one of the state and nation’s poorest regions, have seen an increasing number of women suffering from incomplete abortions and bleeding after taking drugs unsupervised, they said.

The new restrictions just made it a bad situation worse. When access to clinics is limited and waiting periods and other restrictions are put in place, women don’t stop having abortions. There were 77,537 abortions in Texas in 2001; 77,374 in 2005 and then, following the last round of severe restrictions in 2011, 72,470 abortions in 2011. Plus that’s just the reported data. When women go and buy illegal drugs to terminate their pregnancies, or go to back-alley clinics, those numbers aren’t reported. In other words, in theory and in statistical fact, these laws have nothing to do with abortion and everything to do with preventing women from controlling their own bodies and making their own medical decisions in consultation with their doctors.

See, here’s the thing about abortion: If women want one, they’re gonna get one. The thought process isn’t, “Oh, I can’t get an abortion so I guess I’ll just go through with the pregnancy and keep the baby or give it up for adoption.” The thought process is generally the opposite—women who have decided to have an abortion have already decided NOT to keep the baby or have the baby and then give it up for adoption. Restricting access to abortion doesn’t remove the desire of women to have abortions. All it does is drive those decisions underground. Before Roe v. Wade, 50 percent of all maternal deaths resulted from illegal abortions. Do we really want to go back there?

Judge Yeakel, a Republican appointed to the federal bench by George W. Bush, wrote that the Texas laws placed “a substantial obstacle in the path of a woman seeking an abortion.” For the thousands of Texas women who live in parts of the state that would not longer have access to abortion services, that is understatement. What Judge Yeakel didn’t note, but women know, is that obstacles can be overcome. No matter what the Republicans in Texas try and legislate, women in Texas will continue to have abortions. The question is will they be safe and legal—or not.