“We are hopeful that the Supreme Court will modify Roe and allow states to protect unborn babies from abortion throughout pregnancy beginning at conception,” said Dr. Joe Pojman, Texas Alliance for Life’s Executive Director. “The Legislature has already passed, and pro-life Governor Abbott has signed, the Human Life Protection Act to completely protect those unborn children when and to the extent the Court overturns Roe.”
“Things accelerated with the sonogram bill,” said Joe Pojman, executive director of the Texas Alliance for Life, an anti-abortion group that lobbies at the Capitol. “I think members got confidence that these measures could pass and that they would be rewarded and not punished in general elections — and they have certainly been rewarded.”
Before SB 8 went into effect, a woman could have an abortion in Texas up to 22 weeks from her last menstrual period, a limit put in place during the 2013 legislative session.
Prior to that point, White said the focus of anti-abortion legislation was making it difficult for women to obtain an abortion by enacting new requirements before the procedure could happen.
House Bill 2 in 2013 created the 22-week ban and imposed restrictions on abortion-inducing medication, but it focused primarily on “targeted regulation of abortion providers” as a means of reducing access.
The bill required abortion doctors to obtain admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of the facility, and it said all facilities that offer the procedure must adhere to the same standards as ambulatory surgical centers.
“This was all framed as language that would make abortion safer, playing on this myth that abortion is not safe,” White said.
The law was a flashpoint in the abortion debate in Texas. Providers said it would upend the abortion landscape in the state and lead to the closure of than half of the abortion clinics in the state. Abortion rights advocates said it would create barriers to access the procedure.
It drew national attention when then-Sen. Wendy Davis staged a marathon filibuster to kill the bill during a special legislative session. The event drew hundreds of protesters to the statehouse. But the Legislature later passed the measure in a new special session.
“House Bill 2 in 2013 was very substantial,” Pojman said. “Texas, I don’t think, had ever seen a grassroots response — on both sides — to any bill in its history that I’ve ever read about of that magnitude. There were literally thousands of people who signed up in favor or against that bill in the (House and Senate) committees. It was just incredible.”
The bill was ultimately signed into law, but it was immediately challenged in the courts. In 2016, a divided U.S. Supreme Court struck down the central provisions of the law requiring admitting privileges and heightened safety requirements at clinics, stating that their effect would be to create an improper barrier for women seeking an abortion.
But, in some ways the law was successful. More than half the state’s abortion providers shut down and never reopened.
Since then, the push to restrict access to abortion has only intensified.
“It has really been since 2016 that there were a lot concerted efforts,” White said. “We saw some of this percolating before, with these earlier gestational bans, but we’re seeing them come up a lot often in recent years across the country.”
n Texas, additional restrictions have been adopted to make it harder for minors to obtain abortions and to require the burial or cremation of fetal remains after an abortion. Certain types of abortion procedures also have been banned.
Some laws remain tied up in court battles, but others are in effect. White said the result has been numerous abortion providers closing clinics, leaving low-income women in certain areas without access to local and affordable health care options.
Lawmakers this summer also approved legislation to prohibit physicians from prescribing abortion-inducing medication to women who are than seven weeks pregnant, down from 10 weeks allowed under current law. The proposal is awaiting Gov. Greg Abbott’s signature.
“I’m really tired of every single session having to come here and debate one obstacle to a woman having the right to choose what happens to her own body and her own destiny,” said Rep. Donna Howard, D-Austin, during debate in the House over the bill.
Pojman said the goal of abortion opponents has always been clear: “to protect unborn babies completely, throughout pregnancy from abortion, while providing ample, compassionate alternatives to abortion.”
For Texas Alliance for Life, SB 8 is a step in the right direction, and Pojman said he is “ighted” it has been allowed to go into effect. But the bigger priority is overturning Roe v. Wade.
Lawmakers this year approved a “trigger bill” that would allow Texas to ban or limit abortion to the extent allowed by a future ruling by the Supreme Court.
“If (Roe v. Wade) is overturned, there will be a law that completely protects unborn babies beginning at conception in Texas,” Pojman said.
Until the legal battle over SB 8 plays out — a sharply divided Supreme Court let the law stand for now — White said it is hard to know exactly how it will affect future abortion regulations in Texas and across the country.
“Will it be possible for states like Texas to continue to do things like this?” she said. “Will this just be the new normal, where you can only get an abortion essentially before six weeks of pregnancy? Will there be stronger protections in place to ensure that people have access to care without unnecessary barriers? We don’t know.”
ELVING: On a national scale, it’s at odds with the clear majority. The clear majority supports abortion or abortion with some restrictions. But it does fit the mood in some states. Now, the Texas Alliance for Life organization that’s calling the tune now in the nation’s second most populous state, this group says it wants to end abortion even before six weeks, right up to the point of conception. So we are at a crossroads. Support for abortion may grow with generational change – a lot of indication of that. But right now, the most dedicated anti-abortion advocates have the upper hand in much of the country based on their electoral success.
Texas’s law allows private citizens—except for an individual who impregnated a woman through rape or incest—to sue physicians who perform abortions after a fetal heartbeat can be detected.
“The applicants now before us have raised serious questions regarding the constitutionality of the Texas law at issue,” the Supreme Court’s majority wrote in an opinion earlier this week. “But their application also presents complex and novel antecedent procedural questions on which they have not carried their burden.”
A number of pro-life organizations such as the Texas Alliance for Life praised the Supreme Court’s decision, while pro-abortion groups decried the move.
Even in Texas, it was not universally embraced by antiabortion advocates; the Texas Alliance for Life, which is sometimes at odds with the separate Texas Right to Life group, was neutral on the measure, citing the likelihood that it would be struck down in the courts. Many prominent Republicans who support abortion restrictions, such as Senator John Cornyn of Texas, have so far refrained from celebrating the high court’s decision, a potential indication that they predict turbulent political waters for the law.
Dr. Joe Pojman, executive director of Texas Alliance for Life, told VERIFY that the pro-life organization he founded in 1988 was adamant that there must be an exception included in SB 8 to allow a physician to terminate a pregnancy if the mother’s life is in danger.
“We have to have those exceptions for the life of the mother. Fortunately, those cases are very rare with modern science, but it could happen in the case of an ectopic, in other words, tubal pregnancy, when the unborn child is developing not in the uterus of the mother, but in a fallopian tube and if left unattended that fallopian tube could rupture, the child will certainly die, and it could risk the life of the mother through hemorrhaging. So, that has to be treated and the treatment is to take action to the end of pregnancy. The intent, of course, is not to take the life of the child, but to save the mother’s life, and an unintended result is that the child will die,” said Dr. Pojman.
Pojman says his organization did not recommend that the Texas Legislature include exceptions in the case of rape or incest.
“We have to recognize that the terrible, violent act of aggression of a rapist against a woman is an absolutely hideous act — it’s a bodily violation of that woman. But the question is, if in rare cases that that act results in the pregnancy of the woman, what’s the best thing for all parties involved? And, of course, we’re talking about the mother and the unborn child. We do not think a compassionate society should advocate the death of the unborn child because of the terrible act of the father of the child; that child is also an innocent victim, just as the woman,” said Pojman.