On the New Texas Abortion Laws: Even If You Don’t Support Abortion, I’m Asking You to Support Democracy
An important issue in the 2016 Presidential Election cycle was the candidates’ positions on women’s reproductive rights. It’s no secret that abortion is one of the most controversial political issues of our century. And while Donald Trump’s and Secretary Clinton’s respective positions on the matter may have been an important factor in swaying voters, its crucial to realize that abortion and any political decision regarding the right to the procedure is, to a large extent, enacted on a state level. For example, in 2013 Texas passed House Bill 2 which placed severe regulations on abortion clinics and lead to half of them being closed down. This restricted the access women in Texas had to the procedure. Furthermore, the executive state government can make laws through the bureaucracy that evade open democratic deliberation. Case in point: the new anti-abortion law in Texas requiring abortion clinics to cremate or bury fetal tissue instead of disposing of it as medical waste.On July 1st, 2016 the “Proposed Rules” were brought forth by the Department of State Health Services, after the executive order of Gov. Abbott. A 30-day public comments period followed the publication and the rule was formally adopted and took effect in September.Despite the public comments period it is clear that there was no open democratic debate seeing as irrespective of the backlash this policy may have had it would and was still implemented.
The undemocratic process through which these rules were enacted is not the only problem in this case. The Department’s and the Governor’s argument in support of these rules is grounded in the religious and moral belief that the unborn infant, irrespective of the stage of gestation that was reached before the abortion took place, is a human being and deserves, as such, to be treated with respect. That “respect” entails cremation or burial.Thus, the Proposed Rules implicitly recognize and establish that regardless of the patients’ own beliefs, be that moral or religious, the State finds the unborn infant to be human. The problem that clearly arises is that women seeking abortion are bombarded with the idea that their decision is ethically and morally wrong. They are told the fetus is human and subsequently their choice becomes one of homicide in the eyes of the State. Again, irrespective of the stage of gestation, what science tells us or any unavoidable medical complications during the pregnancy. The psychological burden placed on the women through these rules is problematic to say the least especially when it stems from beliefs that are moral judgements. As Stephanie Toti, senior counsel for the Center for Reproductive Rights, stated, “Texas politicians are at it again, inserting their personal beliefs into the health care decisions of Texas women”.
And if the argument that politicians have no business answering for citizens what is a fundamentally moral and religious question isn’t enough to convince you of the invalid nature of the Proposed rules, perhaps this will persuade you. The psychologically damaging effects these rules may have on patients establish them as unconstitutional. This “undue burden” is in violation of the U.S Supreme Court’s ruling in Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pa. v. Casey, which found that a state regulation is invalid, if the “purpose or effect” of the statute “is to place a substantial obstacle in the path of a woman seeking an abortion of a nonviable fetus”. The argument thus moves beyond differences in moral and religious beliefs but rather brings into question the policy’s validity and agreement with the Constitution.
Whether or not you believe an unborn fetus is human, I am asking you to recognize that these rules are a psychological burden to women who may have no other choice but abortion. It is each patient’s personal decision whether or not to bury or cremate the fetal remains and the unconditional establishment of the fetus’s humanity is a belief that should not be enforced on anyone. Most importantly, regardless of your beliefs surrounding abortion, (which may I emphasize are completely individual and personal moral judgements you are entitled to make on your own), the fact that these rules are in plain violation of the Supreme Court’s ruling should be enough to motivate you to act. Even if you don’t support abortion, I am asking you to support democracy and what we already know to be law. By effect this law is unconstitutional and by design, through evading open democratic deliberation before the rules took effect, it’s undemocratic.
Finally, I want to leave you with this. The proposal is expected to be vetted by lawmakers when they convene in January, 2017, a process through which they could be written into Texas law by Legislature. These rules could become law. Or they could not. To the people of Texas, reach out to your Legislators and take advantage of your voice to determine what these rules become. I encourage you to pay attention to the unconstitutional character of these rules and keep in mind the implications and effects they will have on women. To everyone else, instead of focusing merely on our future President’s stance on abortion look into your State governments’ positions. Our legislators, our bureaucracy need to be held accountable for their decisions.
Yes, an important question in the 2016 Presidential Election cycle was what the candidates’ position was on women’s reproductive rights. In an ideal world politicians would have no say in one of the most intimate decisions a woman can make about her body. But this is not an ideal world, a fact difficult to ignore after this years’ Presidential election and whether we like it or not the debate surrounding abortion will most likely remain a political one. So, let’s not make women’s reproductive rights an important question only during the Presidential Election cycles. Let’s make it a priority every year, all year round and direct it to everyone, not just presidential candidates. Because at the end of the day, government is a whole lot more than just our President.