Death penalty for abortion - what is going on in Texas?

In a move that has sent shockwaves across the nation, at the Texas GOP Convention delegates voted on a 2024 platform that includes a proposal calling for new legislation to establish "fetal personhood" and criminalise abortion as homicide.

In a move that has sent shockwaves across the United States, the Texas GOP Convention saw delegates vote on a 2024 platform that included a proposal calling for new legislation to establish "fetal personhood" and criminalise abortion as homicide.

This proposal comes nearly two years after the Supreme Court's controversial decision to overturn Roe v. Wade in June 2022, which eliminated women's federal constitutional right to have an abortion. Here’s a rundown of how we got to politicians threatening the death penalty. 

The aftermath of Dobbs v. Jackson

The timeline of events since the Dobbs v. Jackson ruling (the US Supreme Court decision that overruled the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision in the same court) has been nothing short of a rollercoaster ride for reproductive rights in America.

Within hours of the shock decision, several states had enacted trigger laws, immediately banning or severely restricting abortion access. Since the decision, abortion has been banned in 14 states and three have banned the procedure past roughly six weeks of pregnancy leaving millions of women and pregnant people without access to this essential healthcare service. Although abortion is a sensitive topic, women having the right to make meaningful choices about their bodies is a foundational pillar for a number of other rights and life outcomes.

As the legal battles raged on and the US becomes a reproductive rights battleground, a patchwork of state laws emerged, creating a confusing and inequitable landscape for people wanting or needing to access an abortion.

Some states, like Illinois and Kansas, became "abortion havens," expanding their services to accommodate an influx of patients from neighbouring states with restrictive laws. However, clinics quickly became overwhelmed with prospective patients, leading to long wait times and increased costs for those seeking care.

Disproportionate impact on marginalised communities

Predictably, the flow on effects of the Dobbs decision have been particularly challenging for marginalised communities, including low-income individuals, people of colour, and those living in rural areas.

These groups have historically faced barriers to accessing reproductive healthcare, and the loss of federal abortion protections has only exacerbated these disparities.

According to 2019 data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, black women are four times more likely to have an abortion than white women in the US. In an article that came out not long after the Dobbs decision, Fabiola Cineas wrote: “The end of legal abortion will trap Black women in cycles of poverty. The consequences will also be deadly. Black women have the highest rates of maternal mortality and pregnancy complications, and those risks will only increase if more Black women have to carry unwanted pregnancies to term.”

The proposed death penalty in Texas and South Carolina

In a move that has sent shockwaves across the nation, at the Texas GOP Convention, delegates voted on a 2024 platform that includes a proposal calling for new legislation to establish "fetal personhood" and criminalise abortion as homicide.

If passed, this legislation could potentially classify abortion care providers and patients as murderers under Texas law. This also has the effect of moving the conversation about abortion from the healthcare and women's rights realm, to the criminal justice system.

Farah Diaz-Tello, legal director at Lawyering for Reproductive Justice told Yahoo News “the state of Texas is a leader in controlling people with their penal system.” She went on to explain, “If a fetus is considered a person, then it’s considered a child, which is a vulnerable population ... Homicide of identified vulnerable persons escalates penalties.”

“I wish I could say that the idea of the death penalty is a jump, but it’s not,” said Diaz-Tello, adding that for the anti-abortion movement in Texas, “it’s actually the next logical step.”

This isn’t the first time the idea of using the death penalty as a way of coercing abortion providers and seekers. In January 2023 South Carolina Republicans proposed the South Carolina Prenatal Equal Protection Act, which could subject women who have abortions to the state's homicide laws, including the death penalty. The bill defines a "person" as an "unborn child at every stage of development from fertilization until birth," effectively criminalizing abortion in all instances, with limited exceptions.

Growing support for abortion rights

Amidst this turmoil, a growing number of Americans have expressed support for preserving access to abortion. According to a recent Pew Research Center survey, 63% of U.S. adults believe abortion should be legal in all or most cases. This sentiment is reflected in the actions of several states, including California, New York, and Illinois, which have taken steps to enshrine abortion rights and expand access to reproductive healthcare services.

The importance of voting

For US voters, it's crucial for citizens to carefully consider the positions of candidates on this issue the upcoming Presidential election. The consequences of the Dobbs Supreme Court decision will be felt for generations to come, and the actions taken today in the political realm will help shape the course of this critical issue for years to come.