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Texas abortion rights opponents are optimistic the Supreme Court will overturn Roe v. Wade

A anti-abortion demonstrator protests in front of the Supreme Court building, on the day of hearing arguments in the Mississippi abortion rights case Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health, in Washington, D.C. on Dec. 1, 2021.
A anti-abortion demonstrator protests in front of the Supreme Court building, on the day of hearing arguments in the Mississippi abortion rights case Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health, in Washington, D.C. on Dec. 1, 2021.

Opponents of abortion rights in Texas were more optimistic about the proposition of overturning Roe v. Wade after Wednesday’s oral arguments in a U.S. Supreme Court case challenging the landmark decision.

That case — Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization — deals with Mississippi’s abortion law, which bans abortions after 15 weeks.

Anti-abortion rights groups in Texas were watching the case closely, voicing support for that law. Chelsey Youman, a spokesperson with the North Texas-based anti-abortion rights group Human Coalition Action, was in Washington Wednesday to watch the proceedings and hoped that, with a conservative supermajority of justices, the court would overturn Roe.

"To be honest, with the makeup of the Supreme Court and the constitutional arguments that were presented, we were very confident that the law is on our side going into this, and that Roe would be overturned,” Youman said. “But I can tell you, leaving, I’m so much more hopeful. I think it’s going to be an even stronger majority than we initially thought."

The landmark 1973 case codified a right to abortion during the first two trimesters of pregnancy. If the Supreme Court overturns or modifies Roe v. Wade, several states — including Texas — are poised to set further restrictions or total bans on abortion.

The first steps for Texas if Roe is overturned are already in place, according to said Jonathan Saenz, an attorney and the president of Texas Values. The Supreme Court has allowed Texas Senate Bill 8 to stand since Sept. 1. That law bans abortions as early as six weeks of gestation, before most women know they’re pregnant.

“We believe today is one of he most important and historic moments ever in the pro-life movement,” said Saenz, whose group was one of more than 20 state-aligned organizations that filed briefs in support of the Mississippi law. “There’s a lot of belief that this could be the case that leads to Roe v. Wade, a Texas case, being overturned.”

Doctors and providers in Texas say they’ve already seen a slowdown in reproductive care since SB 8 play out. Some have begun telling their patients to travel out of state to get an abortion procedure, and providers in the neighboring state of Louisiana saw an initial spike in patients from Texas.

The Afiya Center in Dallas has spent the last few months educating women in the city's minority groups about women's health, abortion and the new law in Texas. The center's executive director and co-founder, Marsha Jones, said she’s uncertain on how to feel about Wednesday’s arguments.

"I would love to say that I’m hopeful, that things will go well today and whenever we hear a decision, that it will be on the right side of history,” she said. “But I don't know."

An anti-abortion protester sits on a wall near the U.S. Supreme Court, Wednesday, Dec. 1, 2021, in Washington, as the court hears arguments in a case from Mississippi, where a 2018 law would ban abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy, well before viability.

Following Wednesday's oral arguments in Washington, longtime court watchers, including NPR legal affairs correspondent Nina Totenberg concluded that Roe v. Wade and the right to an abortion in the United States are “on shaky ground.”

Reproductive health research group the Guttmacher Institute found that the law would likely lead to a 3,000% increase in driving distance on average back and forth to obtain an abortion. The institute also predicted Texas would be one of 26 states that would likely ban abortion if the Supreme Court overturns or weakens Roe.

“The need for abortion doesn’t go away because it’s banned,” said Dr. Bhavik Kumar from Planned Parenthood Houston. “People are instead forced to figure out how to get care they need on their own.”

Providing abortion care for both in and out of state patients puts pressure on providers. Kumar said it will be challenging for states that uphold abortion rights protections to provide enough care.

“It seems like it will be near impossible for those states to absorb the demand that will be there,” Kumar said. “I’m very concerned about what that means for people.”

Texas would not need to call a special legislative session if the Supreme Court overturns Roe: Gov. Greg Abbott has already signed a bill into lawthat would ban abortions in Texas if the Supreme Court overturns the ruling.

The bill, known as the Human Life Protection Act, would ban abortions as early as fertilization depending on the extent of abortion rights limits permitted by the Supreme Court’s decision, said Joe Pojman, the executive director of Texas Alliance for Life.

But Pojman, an opponent of abortion rights, said that ban wouldn’t be enough.

“In our view, the viability line is arbitrary,” he said.

If the Texas act banning abortions goes into effect, people will start to self-manage their abortions at home, said Delma Catalina Limones, a spokesperson for Texas abortion rights group Avow.

If that happens, she said, it would put communities that are already disproportionately impacted by the criminal justice system — such as immigrants and people of color — at greater risk.

“We’re not talking about back-alley abortions now,” Limones said. “We’re talking about people self-managing their abortions, and who’s going to be criminalized along the way for doing that.”
Copyright 2021 Houston Public Media News 88.7. To see more, visit Houston Public Media News 88.7.

Caroline Love
Haya Panjwani, KERA