The new Texas abortion law, SB 8, is opening up a giant can of worms with its draconian penalties and novel enforcement mechanism. Where’s the Ivermectin when you need it?
You can’t swing a dead armadillo anymore without splatting someone opining on SB 8, the new Texas abortion law. Either it’s the apocalypse and we should all buy stock in Greyhound and clothes-hanger manufacturers, or it’s the strongest pro-life, pro-child legislative effort since Republican Gov. Abbott’s ban on school mask mandates guaranteed more sick, permanently disabled, and dead Texas kids. Either way, though, it’s worth looking past the well-deserved outrage to start thinking through the entire can of worms that this new law has opened. This can is so big that there are generations of worms as yet unhatched whose squirmy effects will be felt in ways we can’t even imagine.
Most immediately obvious is the way that support for SB 8 marks so many proud conservatives as monstrously hypocritical. Remember all those anti-mask protesters saying, “My Body, My Choice,” in apparent mockery of the abortion rights slogan? If they didn’t really mean it, maybe we should finally move forward with all the mask and vaccine mandates needed to pull out of this everlasting pandemic. Either making an informed choice regarding your own body is controversial, or it isn’t. Choose wisely.
Then there’s the “pop culture” definition of Communism that bears little resemblance to Marxist thought, but which is certainly effective as a scare word in today’s political landscape. Communism, in this case, is simply the idea that the government is going to take away everything you have and give it away to someone else. This is why conservatives get all worked up over the eviction moratorium, public assistance, and even free school lunches for children. Charity is acceptable, but it must be optional for the donor. It’s not murder to withhold resources like food, money, or housing from those in need, even if they’ll die without it. It’s exercising your freedom.
Yet, if landlords should have the right to kick tenants out on the street, knowing they may die of exposure or illness, one would expect women to have even more profound rights over who they allow to take shelter within their own bodies. If it’s not abuse to deny commodity foodstuffs to hungry, growing kids, why should a woman be obligated to feed anyone with nutrients from her own bloodstream? If “Communism” is the spectre of a government commissar coming to forcibly take your stuff and give it to someone who “needs it more than you do,” how is forced gestation and birth not this very thing? If you don’t truly own the rights to your own body, then how is it meaningful to claim inviolable moral ownership of one’s investment property, bank account, or canned goods?
The flip side of SB 8 (and anti-abortion legislation generally) is that if one can be obligated to save and support another life if it would otherwise die, then this is the time to push hard for socialized medicine, expanded poverty benefits, and even mitigation of climate change – anything that saves lives, especially those of children. Wouldn’t want to be responsible for any miscarriages, would you? There’s a $10,000 bounty on that, if you frame it properly.
Then there’s this statistic: in 2020, roughly 54,000 women obtained abortions in Texas, and only about 25% of those women are white. How will the proudest of boys, who already feel like people of their pallor are being replaced, deal with the perception that their political faction is accelerating the process?
Texas’s real gift to all the other states is the innovative enforcement mechanism baked into SB 8. Roe v. Wade‘s premise is that the Constitution’s strongly implied “right to privacy” includes decisions a woman might make about such intimate venues as the inside of her body. In 1992, Planned Parenthood v. Casey reiterated a woman’s right to obtain an abortion before fetal viability “without undue interference from the state.” SB 8 doesn’t involve state enforcement, though, handing it over instead to nosy neighbors, bullies, activists, and vigilantes. It’s an end run around the state that put the law past the reach of the Supreme Court, at least according to the five most conservative justices.
An important consideration that proponents of any legislation should think long and hard about, is how the opposition may use it when the social pendulum swings and another faction inevitably comes into power. For example, many of the same people who quaver in fear of straw-Marxism and microchipped vaccines have been claiming for years that Christians are a persecuted minority.
What could a truly anti-Christian state legislature do with the same enforcement tools that Texas granted its citizens via SB 8? Imagine, for example, that a state really does want to make Christianity illegal. “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…” indeed. However, if we roll back the 14th Amendment’s Incorporation Doctrine, as conservatives have been hot to do since the Civil Rights era, then the Bill of Rights wouldn’t apply to any individual state, which then could prohibit the free exercise thereof, within its boundaries anyway. After all, they’re not, strictly speaking, Congress. (This may seem silly, but so was North Carolina’s effort to establish Christianity as its official state religion less than a decade ago. A lot has changed and become “thinkable” in that time.)
Then, empower everyday citizens to bar people from entering churches, building churches, donating to churches, or going door-to-door to evangelize. Allow those citizens to sue Christians out of existence: if being proven Christian in court can impose severe financial hardships, but clearing your name gives you nothing, people would be really, really careful about going to church, driving someone else to church, or even holding private worship services in basements, wouldn’t they? Maybe you’d have to cross state lines to worship communally, and poor Christians wouldn’t be able to afford to do so. Be careful what you wish for – or legislate – because the worst case scenario might not be one you’re willing to tolerate when it’s turned back on you. Maybe it won’t be Christianity, but it could be your guns.
SB 8 is so novel that we’ve only seen the tippiest bit of the iceberg as far as how its effects will ripple across our country and our culture, and it’s barely off the ground. One thing’s for sure: times are getting crazier and crazier, and historically, crazy times are often precursors to national tragedies.
Related: Destroying the Country to Save It