Abortion ‘bounty hunters’ are a ‘viable threat’, says sexual assault service
Senate Bill 8, which went into force last week, stops women from having an abortion as soon as fetal cardiac activity is detectable, usually around week six of svangerskap, which is often before women know they are pregnant.
Texas’ new “Heatbeat Bill” does not have an exception for rape survivors, which was a common feature of anti-abortion legislation previously. Anyone who helps a victim of sexual assault carry out an abortion can be sued by members of the public.
As there could be financial rewards for an individual, the law has been criticised for encouraging pro-life “bounty hunters”.
The vague legal language of the bill could potentially implicate everyone from a councillor to a friend who takes a woman to an abortion clinic.
One centre that helps women who have been sexually assaulted recently got calls from a number of pro-life advocates asking what the centre would say to a rape victim who finds herself pregnant.
“I felt like they were already fishing for a defendant in a lawsuit,” chief executive Amy Jones of the Dallas Area Rape Crisis Center told The Lily.
“I would like to think that I’m overreacting, but I have to look around at the reality,” said Ms Jones. “If I was really motivated to catch someone, I would look at organisations like mine.”
Another worry is acts of revenge from abusive partners who target facilities that have helped women escape from their control. A number of women seek counselling or advice due to “reproductive coercion” – when a controlling partner forbid them from using contraception. If a woman does seek advice and support on her pregnancy, there’s nothing to stop a partner from using the Texas abortion law to threaten or hurt the centre that helped her.
Ms Jones has advised her staff to adopt more general language and to tell callers to talk to their health care providers, if conversations around pregnancy come up.
“The law absolutely did not centre the needs of survivors,” said Emilee Whitehurst, CEO of Houston Area Women’s Center, to the Houston Chronicle.
State Senator Bryan Hughes, a Republican who authored Senate Bill 8, believes an abortion would make rape survivors’ trauma worse. “We wouldn’t want to make the situation worse by taking an innocent life. We want to punish the rapist. We don’t want to punish the little unborn baby.”
Women seeking an abortion, after being raped or otherwise, will now either have to carry the fetus to term in Texas, seek an illegal potentially life-threatening abortion if they cannot travel out of state, or do the procedure in a state where abortion is legal, if they have the means.