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Abortion penalties will increase on August 25

Sorry to be the bearer of bad news.

The U.S. Supreme Court has issued its official judgment in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, clearing the way for Texas’ “trigger law” banning almost all abortions to go into effect Aug. 25.

The law will increase the criminal and civil penalties associated with abortion, but the procedure is already virtually outlawed in Texas under an old statute that was in effect before the high court decided Roe v. Wade in 1973.

The state’s two dozen abortion clinics stopped providing abortions almost immediately after the court overturned Roe v. Wade in late June, fearing criminal prosecution under those pre-Roe statutes, which make it a crime punishable by up to five years in prison to provide or “furnish the means” for an abortion.

Those statutes are separate from the trigger law, which the Legislature passed in 2021. That law, which is triggered by the overturning of Roe v. Wade, increases the penalties for performing an abortion up to life in prison. The trigger law also says that the attorney general “shall” bring a lawsuit to seek a civil penalty of no less than $100,000 per abortion performed.

Both the pre-Roe statute and the trigger law have only narrow exceptions to save the life of the pregnant patient.

While other states’ trigger laws went into effect immediately, Texas’ was written to go into effect 30 days after the Supreme Court issued its official judgment, after which no rehearings or appeals can be filed. That process usually takes about a month.

There’s been a lot of confusion over just when and how the law was going to change in Texas. I suspect that most people quite reasonably expected that abortion was essentially banned as soon as the Dobbs decision was made available, and for practical purposes that’s correct. The difference at this point is that all of the darkly muttered threats about the vengeance that is to be unleashed will turn into action on that date. Whatever constraints there may still be now will be gone. As bad as it is now, it’s going to get worse. I’m sorry to have to say that.

As for the remaining clinics themselves, they’re thinking about what comes next for them as well.

A month after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, Texas’ two dozen abortion clinics are slowly coming to terms with a future where their work is virtually outlawed.

Some clinics have already announced that they are shutting down operations and moving to New Mexico and other states that are expected to protect abortion access. Others, including Planned Parenthood, say they will stay and continue to provide other sexual and reproductive health services.

But keeping the doors open will likely come at a high cost for these clinics — financially, politically and psychologically — as they absorb more patients with fewer options.

“It’s really hard to find words in the English language that honor what the experience has been like,” said Dr. Bhavik Kumar, medical director of primary and trans care at Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast in Houston. “It’s just devastation.”

Planned Parenthood will still be around, doing less than it has been able to do in the past. Whole Women’s Health is moving to New Mexico. Some others will stay, some others will leave. The devastation will increase. As I said before, that’s a feature and not a bug.

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