Texas abortion law – what happened?
One of the strictest abortion laws in the United States has just been issued in Texas, a historical beacon for Republican party allies and voters, as well as conservative issues and policies.
In a move that surprised many, the US Supreme Court (now standing at 6 justices appointed by Republican presidents and 3 justices appointed by Democratic presidents) remained silent on an emergency request that aimed to block the Texas law from taking effect.
The Texas law, which was initially passed in May, effectively bans all abortions in the state that have exceeded six weeks – a period by which many women are not even aware that they are pregnant. According to NPR, “the law allows private citizens to sue abortion providers and anyone else who helps a woman obtain an abortion — including those who give a woman a ride to a clinic or provide financial assistance to obtain an abortion. Private citizens who bring these suits don’t need to show any connection to those they are suing. The law makes no exceptions for cases involving rape or incest”.
In response, President Biden called the law “extreme”, adding that this “blatantly violates” the constitutional right to abortion, a cornerstone of his Democratic agenda and reputation as a liberal administration.
Then, how come was this abortion regulation allowed to pass and become “the law of the land” in the state of Texas?
The incremental, but consequential changes that the current conservative makeup of the Supreme Court is doing is to chip away at hard-won rights that have become part of US law and way of life.
Why is that?
This is mainly because of the fortunate timing in the recent vacancies on the Supreme Court on the part of the previous Administration, which allowed Republican president Donald Trump to nominate three justices to the highest court in the land in just under four years.
The nominated justices, all three of which are now sitting on the bench of the Supreme Court, represent some of the most controversial nominations in recent US history – whether it’s be due to the timing of the nomination (Trump nominated Amy Coney Barrett, immediately after the death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg in September last year, even though he was less than 100 days away from the US presidential contest) or due to the background of the nominees (Brett Kavanaugh was accused of sexual harassment.
Despite the highly publicised congressional hearing with the accuser, a very credible and respected academic and with all the #metoo backlash that arose following the hearing and the revelations, the Senate, nevertheless, approved his nomination).
This led to an offset of the relative liberal-conservative equilibrium among the Court, turning the tables in favour of the conservative justices. The Supreme Court now has an unbeatable 6-3 conservative majority, with young justices appointed to the court, who are expected to sit on the bench for the next three decades, forever changing the course of US justice and inevitably transforming the image of US society as it is.
The post-Trump Supreme Court
The Trump Administration has left its mark on the judicial makeup of the country not just at the highest court in the land, but at all levels of the judicial system. According to Politico, Trump “appointed roughly a quarter of all active federal judges in the country and more federal appeals court judges than any recent president at the same point in a first term”, citing a Pew Research Centre study.
Throughout his mandate, the Senate confirmed 218 of Trump’s nominations, including 53 judges for court of appeals, 161 judges for the district courts and two judges for the Court of International Trade. Another 34 nominations are awaiting action.
The post-Trump Supreme Court and the gross inaction that one of the most revered (and, up until recently, one that was as exempt and above frivolous politics) institutions in the country is endemic to the intense and aggressive politicisation of American life.
With the Supreme Court abstaining from overturning the abortion law, “the silence sent a clear message that states can act in ways that are flagrantly unconstitutional under settled law where abortion is concerned”, said Kate Shaw, a law professor at Cardozo School of Law, in an interview for The Guardian.
During the 2016 presidential elections, Donald Trump campaigned as a conservative crusader, who would fight for the party’s values and promised to bring back respect to traditional values, as the rise of progressivism around the world and around the country was outdating principles that were perennial for the Republican party.
Even though his political and personal behaviours was dictating quite against those values, his personal behaviour was anathema to anything that these values were preaching, his political persona became a saving line for conservative ideals in America. And these can be epitomised in the judges President Trump nominated to the Supreme Court.
Shaw continues that “the court’s hostility to abortion has led it to approve a law that is not only plainly unconstitutional, but a threat to the social fabric and to the rule of law”.
Even though the Roe v. Wade ruling of 1973, which legalised abortions nationwide, banned abortions after 24 weeks, the Texas ruling would lead to an all-round ban on all abortions after 6 weeks, effectively outlawing 90% of terminations that are done in the state of Texas.
Brigitte Amir, a member of the legal team that had petitioned the court to intervene and stop the Texas law working for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) said that “the law is a blatantly unconstitutional ban on abortion around six weeks in pregnancy, before most people know they are pregnant. It violates nearly 50 years of Supreme Court precedent”.
Ever since the ruling was passed last week, women in Texas have already begun to feel the impact of the law. Women are being turned away from abortion clinics, while the law encourages private citizens to act as vigilantes and to sue anyone that they might think is helping a woman get an abortion.
In her dissenting opinion, Justice Sonya Sotomayor – one of President Obama’s nominees and one of the last liberal justices on the Court – wrote that the ruling represents a “breath taking act of defiance – of the constitution, of this court’s precedents, and of the rights of women seeking abortions”.
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