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What the Texas abortion ban means for Pennsylvania

Head of Women's Medical Fund in Philly discusses Texas' new law banning abortions after six weeks.

The staff of the Women’s Medical Fund, a Philly-based organization that helps people living in poverty access abortion care, is pictured. Image | Megan Hannah

“Abortions have always happened and always will. We have to continue doing this ourselves because the state will not save us,” says Elicia Gonzales, executive director of Women’s Medical Fund, a Philly-based organization that helps people living in poverty access abortion care. “If anything, we continue to witness how our government is actively working against our collective liberation. Abortion care centered in community is the path forward and one that we have and can achieve if we pool our resources and our talents.”

Gonzales, a queer Latinx educator and activist, has served as the head of WMF since 2017. In full disclosure: she is also a friend of this writer. She spoke to PW about Texas’ SB8 law banning abortions after six weeks – which effectively bans the procedure – and what the implications might be for Pennsylvania, where state representatives have repeatedly attempted similar bills. 

According to medical professionals, “six weeks pregnant” is just a period that’s two weeks late. Because there’s no way to determine when a sperm and egg met inside the Fallopian tubes – sperm can survive inside the reproductive tract for the better part of a week – doctors tend to use the date of the last menstrual cycle to estimate the duration of pregnancy. If someone has an irregular menstrual cycle, they may not realize they are pregnant until well after the six-week mark. 

“Whole Woman’s Health, which operates four abortion clinics in Texas, estimates that more than 85 percent of abortion seekers in the state are at least six weeks into pregnancy.”

Gonzales

Early this month, the Supreme Court of the United States voted 5-4 to deny an emergency appeal to the Texas law, using the shadow docket – a method that skips hearing public arguments and allows the justices to rule without writing out a defense of their votes. The five justices who voted to allow the law published nothing explaining their ruling, while the four dissenters each published explanations that they believe the decision was unconstitutional. 

“Rich individuals have always been able to access abortion care,” Gonzales explains, noting that while the impact of this ruling will put all the clinics in Texas at risk of closure, wealthy people will still be able to travel to other states to access abortion care. It’ll be those who can’t afford to take off work and book a flight who will be out of luck. 

“Abortion seekers will have to travel out of state or be forced to carry to term,” she says, pointing out that the health risks of carrying a pregnancy to term and delivering a baby are higher than the risks of abortion. “Being forced to carry a pregnancy is harmful enough. It’s made even more barbaric when considering that the Black maternal mortality rate is three times that for White pregnant people. And many people will be unable to travel out of state due to costs, inability to miss work or secure childcare, or legitimate fear of deportation when having to cross ICE checkpoints.” 

SB8 has been described as particularly harsh because it does not make any exceptions where the pregnancy is the result of rape or incest. Defending this, Greg Abbot, the Republican governor of Texas, bafflingly claimed he would “eliminate all rapists from the streets.” He did not expand on how his prevention plan would work, evoking satirical comparisons to the PreCrime program in “Minority Report” on social media

Adding to the strangeness and severity of the law is a provision that anyone who assists a person in getting abortion care, whether they are a medical professional, give out information, or even drive a Lyft to the clinic, can be sued for $10,000. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor focused on this facet in her dissent, saying it, “deputized the state’s citizens as bounty hunters, offering them cash prizes for civilly prosecuting their neighbors’ medical procedures.”

Any private citizen is allowed to bring forth such a suit, which means it’s entirely possible that a person could be raped and then sued by their attacker for seeking to end the resulting pregnancy.

Could Pennsylvania be next for such a draconian law? Gonzales thinks so.

“Now that the Supreme Court appears to have embraced this tactic, other states could copy it, potentially allowing states to enact all kinds of unconstitutional practices that can’t be challenged until after an unconstitutional law takes effect.” 

While Pennsylvania’s current governor, Tom Wolf, is staunchly pro-choice on the issue of abortion, most of the major Republican candidates poised to run against him in 2022 say they approve of a similar law being enacted here. 

But hope is not lost for those who value bodily autonomy. The Justice Department has filed suit against Texas, asking a federal judge to declare the law invalid, since abortion rights have been considered settled law since the Roe v. Wade decision in 1973. Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro filed a brief in support. 

Meanwhile, Gonzales and WMF (which is in the process of changing its name), continue their work of providing abortion funding. “We are amplifying our fundraising efforts to try and support the increased need for abortion financial support,” she says, adding. “We are educating our communities about all of the anti-abortion efforts happening in our state. For example, our state’s General Assembly has given millions of dollars to Real Alternatives, which funds anti-abortion centers, sometimes referred to as crisis pregnancy centers or fake clinics.”

For those who want to support WMF’s efforts, Gonzales says they can become recurring donors, host a virtual or in person event, or take part in one of their upcoming fundraisers. 

“I stay motivated to do this work because with the onslaught of injustice and crises, we continue being creative and innovative in supporting our communities,” she says. “We fight the good fight every single day.”

Have a question for Dr. Timaree? Send an email to asktimaree@philadelphiaweekly.com.

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  • Timaree Schmit Headshot

    Timaree Schmit is basically an episode of Adam Ruins Everything, but in the shape of a person. She has a PhD in Human Sexuality Education and years of experience in community organizing, performance art, and finding the extra weird pockets of Philly.

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