Julia Conley, Common Dreams
Rights advocates said Monday that a new law set to go into effect this week in Texas may appear on its face to be aimed at ensuring that pregnant people experiencing medical emergencies can access abortion care—but warned that it could not only do little to protect abortion access in Texas but also give residents a false sense of their reproductive rights and the Republican Party’s intentions when it comes to preserving bodily autonomy.
House Bill 3058 was proposed by state Rep. Ann Johnson (D-134) and, as written, allows doctors to provide “certain medical treatment to a pregnant woman” in cases of premature rupture of membranes when it is too early in pregnancy for a fetus to survive, or an ectopic pregnancy.
Under the new so-called “exceptions,” healthcare providers in Texas could ostensibly avoid up to $100,000 in fines or a life sentence in prison if they provided abortion care in these instances, despite the state law that bans abortion in all cases, including pregnancies that result from rape or incest, at six weeks gestation.
But legal experts and abortion rights advocates say that like exceptions that already exist in many of the abortion bans and restrictions that have been passed in at least 22 states since Roe v. Wade was overturned last year, many patients are still likely to face dangerous delays in care.
H.B. 3058 appears to have been overwhelmingly approved by state Republicans and GOP Gov. Greg Abbott not because of genuine concern for the well-being of people who seek abortion care, said University of California, Davis law professor Mary Ziegler, but to improve voters’ views of the abortion ban that the Texas Republican Party pushed through in 2021.
“Republicans can now point to these new exceptions and say, ‘Look, that kind of thing doesn’t happen anymore,'” Ziegler told The Guardian on Monday.
But even with the new legislation, she added, “the exceptions in the bill are so narrow, and the penalties for violating the Texas ban are so high, that invariably, a lot of doctors are going to continue not to offer abortion in those situations because they don’t want to get in trouble.”
Researcher Grace Haley noted at the Substack publication Abortion, Every Day last week that H.B. 3058 was passed after 14 women in Texas joined a lawsuit saying the state’s ban imperiled their health and lives—denying them care when they and their fetuses faced medical emergencies and causing them to develop life-threatening infections, travel to other states for care while pregnant with fetuses that had severe complications, and face other emotional and physical distress.
Since news reports of such cases have become increasingly commonfollowing the overturning of Roe, polling has shown that a growing share of Americans believe abortion care should be legal at all stages of pregnancy.
Haley wrote that in order to distance itself from images of pregnant patients facing life-threatening medical emergencies and being denied necessary care, the GOP is seeking to “redefine what an abortion is.”
“The definition of abortion isn’t flexible—it’s a medical intervention to end a pregnancy. But GOP lawmakers want to make abortion an intention instead,” wrote Haley.
In a video posted to TikTok, Abortion, Every Day author and advocate Jessica Valenti warned that “it is so dangerous for Democrats to go along with this” as Johnson and other Democratic lawmakers in Texas are.
The move “opens the door for much broader criminalization and enforcement: If someone has a stillborn baby, for example, but at some point did a Google search for abortion clinics—that’s something that could be used by a prosecutor to target them,” Haley wrote.
“Some doctors point out that this language is a small scope surrounding the plethora of pregnancy complications,” she added, “and advocates wonder if the compromise is worth accepting anti-abortion framing.”