The Texas state legislative Judiciary and Civil Jurisprudence Committee held unprecedented public hearings April 8-9 on a proposed bill to authorize criminal prosecution of all women who have an abortion and of the doctors who perform them. All abortions would be outlawed, including for rape, incest and the health of the woman.
While the bill failed to make it to the floor of the House, the publicity given to it was hailed as making it a legitimate part of the “debate” over abortion by anti-woman forces. It is the latest in a series of attacks by capitalist politicians in a growing number of state legislatures against family planning, including a woman’s right to choose abortion.
The bill, called the Abolition of Abortion in Texas Act, would also strike down an exception for abortion from the Texas penal code for homicide. That would mean women and physicians could be prosecuted for murder and subject to the death penalty.
The bill says state and local government officials should enforce the legislation “regardless of any contrary federal law, executive order, or court decision.”
Hundreds of people testified at the hearings over the course of the two days, both opponents of women’s rights and those backing a woman’s right to choose. “It was the first time in the state’s history,” the Washington Post noted, “that public testimony had been heard on a measure holding women criminally liable for their abortions.”
Republican state Rep. Tony Tinderholt, who sponsored the bill, told the media that it would make people “consider the repercussions” of having sex. Tinderholt had introduced the same legislation in 2017 but it had been unceremoniously set aside without a hearing.
Even some who oppose women’s access to abortion expressed misgivings over the criminal penalties that the bill would impose on women. Texas state Rep. Jeff Leach, who allowed the hearing before the judiciary committee to take place, said in a statement that while he’s “pro-life,” this legislation was a step in the “wrong direction.” The anti-abortion group Texans for Life also said it was against the bill.
The intent of legislators promoting it, and many other bills being adopted that impose increasingly far-reaching restrictions on women’s right to abortion, is to force a court fight to reach the U.S. Supreme Court to attempt to overturn Roe v. Wade, the 1973 ruling that legalized abortion.
In Mississippi, for example, Gov. Phil Bryant signed a bill last month that bans abortions once a fetal heartbeat is detected, often just six weeks into pregnancy — when many women aren’t even aware they’re pregnant. The Ohio Legislature approved a similar bill April 10. Similar laws are being considered by legislators in Kentucky, Missouri, Tennessee, West Virginia and Florida.
In Alabama, legislation was recently introduced to criminalize performing all abortions, with the only exception being a threat to the woman’s life.
These attacks have been made easier by the character of the Roe v. Wade ruling. It “was based not on a woman’s right ‘to equal protection of the laws’ guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution, but on medical criteria instead,” Jack Barnes, national secretary of the Socialist Workers Party, wrote in The Clintons’ Anti-Working-Class Record: Why Washington Fears Working People.
“During the first three months (‘trimester’), the court ruled, the decision to terminate a pregnancy ‘must be left to the medical judgment of a pregnant woman’s attending physician’ (not to the woman herself, but to a doctor!).
“At the same time, the court allowed state governments to ban most abortions after ‘viability,’ … something that medical advances inevitably make earlier and earlier in pregnancy.”
The SWP supports a woman’s right to choose whether and when to have a child, free from state interference, and calls for working people to mobilize to defend clinics that offer women family planning, including the right to safe and secure abortions.