The Texas Abortion Law (S.B. 8) put into effect on September 1st is one of the most aggressive attacks to date on bodily autonomy. Although stripping these individuals of control over their own body is barbarically invasive in itself, this denial of an abortion can set off a landslide of other consequences that can severely derail their intended life trajectory. Despite the fact that these aforementioned “unintended consequences” were not the prerogative of the Texas politicians who passed this law, they are making a notable impact on the women in the state.
The state of the mental health of women who are denied agency of their bodies in this severe way is at significant risk. An unplanned pregnancy is jarring in itself, and is linked to low self esteem and higher levels of anxiety. Being forced to continue a pregnancy that is both unplanned and not the wish of the pregnant woman can be extremely traumatizing and stressful. This situation can also make a woman feel completely trapped, because their needs and wants related to terminating their pregnancy were not at all regarded.
Matters are made worse for women who are struggling with their mental health by the enforcement methods of the law, which puts anyone that aids or abets a woman receiving an abortion at risk for being sued. This can lead women to isolate themselves, which when under the level of mental and emotional strain created by this situation can lead to lower immune function, insomnia, anxiety, depression, and increased substance misuse and abuse. Furthermore, a lack of personal support can also mean a lack of advice and guidance, which could lead to women pursuing unsafe abortion methods in an attempt to deal with the situation on their own.
Beyond the detrimental impact on mental health forged by this law, research by economists and other social scientists show that there is a direct correlation between a women’s agency over their own family planning and their subsequent job opportunities and financial security. When a woman is denied an abortion, she is also denied the ability to pursue her career because of the time and financial commitments that come with raising a child in this country. This means that entire generations of Texan women are at risk of forgoing their financial freedom because they were denied the power to make decisions regarding their own body.
Although these impacts are felt by women all across Texas, women of color are at a significantly greater risk. Before this law was even passed, women of color have been disproportionately failed by the Texas healthcare system, under which they have suffered from a greater lack of access to contraception than white women. A lack of contraception leads to a greater number of unplanned pregnancies, which are associated with higher rates of maternal mortality, prematurity, and infant mortality. These consequences will only be exacerbated by the totalitarian nature of this recently passed law, further threatening the lives and livelihoods of women of color in the state.
Furthermore, low-income women, many of whom are also women of color, are doubly harmed by this law, because they do not have the funds at their disposal that women with greater financial means do to deal with the denial of an abortion. Wealthy women in the state can afford to travel elsewhere for an abortion, but poor women who are already at a greater risk for an unplanned pregnancy because of lack of contraception do not, and are thus forced to give birth when they do not have the means to do so. This situation forces people into generational poverty, as the cycle that inherently disadvantages poor people and people of color is forced to continually turn over under this abortion law.
The fact that this law was upheld by the majority conservative Supreme Court, is setting a very dark standard for the amount of control states can lawfully impose on the female body. This raises the question about the security of Roe v. Wade, as the Court made a decision on this law that obviously does not align with the abortion access protected under this ruling, nor under Planned Parenthood v. Casey. In response to this ruling, Attorney General Merrick Garland and the Justice Department sued the state of Texas on the grounds of this law being unconstitutional, as it violates the precedents set under both Roe and Casey. On October 6th, a federal judge in Texas granted the request of the Justice Department by issuing an order blocking S.B 8, which was struck down by the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals just a few days later. There is a merciless fight ahead of us as many other states are already lining up behind Texas with their own horrific anti-choice legislation, and the current Supreme Court leans on the side of upholding them.