The 2021 legislative sessions were very bad for reproductive choice proponents. Emboldened by the current composition of the U.S. Supreme Court, abortion opponents successfully enacted some extreme new laws, which had failed in prior legislative sessions. Due to the pandemic, participation in the legislative process was extremely difficult. LWV filed written testimony in opposition to some of the extreme anti-abortion bills.
Access to Safe, Legal Abortions
Prohibits almost all abortions
Governor Abbott signed SB 8, the so-called heartbeat bill that prohibits almost all abortions once at fetal heartbeat can be detected, which is usually at the 6th week of pregnancy and before many women even know that they are pregnant. It is important to understand that pregnancy is measured from the first day of a woman’s last menstrual period and not from the date of conception.
This law went into effect on September 1, 2021. The ban was challenged in court by abortion providers, but it was allowed to go into effect by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals and the U.S Supreme Court. The law is unusual as it is not enforced by the State of Texas, but instead by private citizens. This was intended to prevent the law from being challenged in the courts. As a result, the number of abortions in Texas has been dramatically reduced and women who need abortions have had to go out of state to obtain care. The ban was subsequently challenged in another lawsuit brought by the U.S. Justice Department, and the district court agreed that the law was unconstitutional and enjoined it from going into effect. Unfortunately, the Fifth Circuit overturned the lower court and allowed the ban to go into effect.
On November 1, 2021, the Supreme Court heard argument on the two pending cases. Meanwhile, the ban continues. LWV-US signed an amicus brief in opposition to SB-8.
The trigger ban
Governor Abbott also signed HB 1280, the "trigger ban.,” Under this law, abortion becomes illegal in Texas if the U.S. Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade.
Limits on medical abortion—the abortion pills
During the second special legislative session, the legislature passed another anti-abortion bill affecting medical abortion. The bill was signed by Governor Abbott on Sept. 17 and it reduces the timeframe for medication abortion from 70 days to 49 days. This is contrary to FDA bucks previous Texas law and U.S. Food and Drug Administration guidelines, which state that abortion-inducing medications are safe to administer to patients up to 10 weeks of pregnancy. It also prevents the mailing of medication abortion drugs and adds additional, medically unnecessary reporting requirements for abortion providers.
Many proactive bills were filed and some even got hearings or votes in the House and Senate, but they did not pass.
Women’s Healthcare Safety Net
LWV and various other members of the Texas women’s Healthcare Coalition worked in support of HB 133, which ultimately passed in the last week of session. The original version of the bill, which passed by the House, would have extended Medicaid coverage for women for one year post-partum. The version that passed the finish line allows women to keep their Medicaid coverage for 6-months postpartum, instead of just 2 months. This is important because Medicaid covers approximately half of the births in Texas.
Unfortunately, bills for Medicaid expansion in Texas did not pass.