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You're Not Overreacting
Republicans want to ban out-of-state travel, you're not nearly 'hysterical' enough
Don’t ever let anyone tell you that you’re overreacting about abortion rights. Given the latest evidence that conservatives want to stop women from leaving their states for abortion care, I’d say we’re not nearly ‘hysterical’ enough.
This week, Goliad County in Texas passed an ordinance making it illegal to take someone out-of-state for an abortion: Driving a friend or family member from or through the county so they can end a pregnancy elsewhere would make you guilty of “trafficking.” It’s part of a broader trend of anti-abortion ordinances across Texas seeking to limit people’s ability to leave the state.
While not criminally enforceable, these ordinances—like so many other anti-abortion laws in Texas—allow citizens to sue each other. The point is to instill fear; you don’t have to ban travel outright if you make people too afraid to lend a friend gas money or a car to get out of town.
Also this week, Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall argued in a court filing that groups helping people leave the state for abortion are participating in a “criminal conspiracy.” Under Marshall’s interpretation of the law, even telling someone about a clinic where they could get care would be a crime:
“One cannot seriously doubt that the State can prevent a mobster from asking a hitman to kill a rival because the agreement occurred through spoken word. So too here for conspiracies to obtain an elective abortion.”
Leaving aside for a moment the fact that Marshall likens having an abortion to a mob hit, once again it’s clear that the strategy is to terrorize communities. Put simply: conservatives want to criminalize people helping each other.
After all, the Alabama lawsuit and Texas ordinance come just months after Idaho passed an ‘abortion trafficking’ law that makes it illegal to bring a minor out-of-state for an abortion. Under this law, an aunt or grandmother who helps a teenager get an abortion could go to prison for years.
But Republicans aren’t just coming after those who ‘aid and abet’ abortions—they’re laying the groundwork to ban travel for women themselves. While Marshall says in his filing this week, for example, that Alabama doesn’t “forbid” a woman to leave the state to get an abortion—he argues that the state is allowed to “restrict” travel when they have “strong, legitimate interests including preserving unborn life.”
Incredibly, Marshall makes this argument by citing a case involving a Florida sex offender who was required to notify state law enforcement when he changed residences. Because the court found that the burden on his right to travel wasn’t unreasonable given the state’s “strong interest in preventing future sexual offenses,” Marshall suggests that similar restrictions on women’s travel for abortion care aren’t illegal.
I’m going to repeat that: the Attorney General of Alabama isn’t just claiming that it’s illegal to help someone leave the state to get an abortion—which would be bad enough—but that it’s legal to impose restrictions on individual women’s travel, as well.
How many more ways do they need to tell us what they’re planning? It’s not as if they’re hiding it! Republicans aren’t going to ban travel all at once with a single law; they’re going to chip away at that right bit by bit, right in front of us.
The good and bad news is that the enforcement of these laws and ordinances require community buy-in—they rely on friends and families ratting each other out and turning each other in.
In many places, the terrorization is working. Yesterday, The Guardian spoke to abortion providers in Texas who report that patients need to be convinced that the clinic is allowed to help them get out-of-state care. These women, they say, often show up without their partners or family members for fear that they could be charged with abetting their legal, out-of-state abortion.
The young woman I spoke to in Texas, forced to leave the state for an abortion after finding out her fetus was developing without a head, relayed the same sense of fear and isolation. She and her boyfriend, Eric, told no one about their plans. “It felt as if we were robbing a bank, that’s how bad it felt,” he said.
What that means, though, is that the way we fight back is by being brave enough to help each other. We can’t be too afraid to share the number of a clinic, or to drive a friend out-of-state. They can’t sue all of us, and they can’t arrest everyone.
Of course I know it’s not as simple as that—there’s more danger for some than others, and we know that the most marginalized among us are those who are targeted by law enforcement and zealous prosecutors. But it’s a thought that does give me some hope: they need people to turn on each other, while our strategy relies on community strength.
Still, while we work on building those community bonds and helping the organizations that do the same—like local abortion funds—it’s vital that we don’t allow anyone to accuse us of fear-mongering or dramatics. Because conservatives coming after our right to travel is not a future danger or something that might happen—it’s an attack that’s already well underway, right in front of our eyes.
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