The Texas Legislature has again touched off national publicity.
Last time, it was Texas House Democrats fleeing Texas to break a quorum, and going to Washington to press their case before Congress.
This time it’s the Republicans in the House and Senate, whose tricky anti-abortion bill that would outlaw almost all abortions in the state became law Wednesday, Sept. 1.
And the two taken together may have an unanticipated effect on national and state politics in 2022.
The abortion bill — SB 8 — signed by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott in May, declares that a woman cannot have an abortion in Texas if the fetus’s development can be detected.
However, that usually occurs around six weeks after conception — which is often before a woman realizes she is pregnant. The result is that it makes most abortions illegal in Texas.
It created a national firestorm because it’s the strongest effort yet to get around the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, which declared it a woman’s right to have an abortion. That stopped many states from outlawing most or all abortions.
Plus, extra drama came just before midnight Wednesday, Sept. 1. A deeply divided U.S. Supreme Court voted 5-4 to decline to hear an emergency appeal from abortion providers and other groups for a stay on the law until its legality could be litigated.
Pro-choice advocates and groups all over the country were worried the Texas law could spread to their states. And for good reason: pro-life legislators and others in several states began to discuss how they could follow Texas’s lead.
Among those states were Florida, North Dakota, South Dakota, Mississippi, Indiana and Arkansas, and several states from the South were expected to be added to the list later.
The tricky thing about the new law is that it doesn’t have the state doing the abortion monitoring. It farms it out to anyone, who can sue someone they think is involved in an abortion — doctors, nurses, attendants — even someone who drives the woman to the clinic.
(Ride-hailing companies Uber and Lyft have already committed to pay court costs for any drivers who are sued.)
The person suing is entitled to a minimum of $10,000 for bringing the case. And while the bounty hunter is reimbursed for court costs from the defendant if he prevails, he is not liable to pay the defendant’s court costs if he loses.
President Joe Biden questioned the whole process.
“The most pernicious thing about the Texas law — it sort of creates a vigilante system,” Biden said. “And I know this sounds ridiculous, almost un-American.”
He said he would bring the full weight of the administration to protect women’s pro-choice rights.
Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, said the president would “continue to call for the codification of Roe,” adding that the Texas law “highlights even further the need to move forward on that effort.”
Other Democrats vowed to take up measures to protect abortion rights. And Democratic Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in a statement that S.B. 8 “delivers catastrophe to women in Texas.”
She added that when lawmakers returned from their summer recess, the House would take up the Women’s Health Protection Act, which would provide new statutory protections for abortion access.
That measure would be expected to pass the House, where Democrats hold a slight majority. But the 50-50 Senate is another matter — particularly getting the 60 votes necessary to overcome a potential filibuster to be considered in the Senate.
But it is in the legislative process, and later the 2022 elections, that the Texas anti-abortion bill, coupled with laws in Texas and other Republican-led states to make it more difficult to vote for minorities, the poor, the old and the disabled, that could help the Democrats.
The Democrats will be watching closely what happens in the legislative processes, in Congress and the states, to be planning whom to hold accountable for their voting records at election time.
But they also will potentially be able to have much more drawing power than usually is the case for get-out-the-vote campaigns, with help from pro-choice women who otherwise might vote Republican, or stay home, but are angered at the Republican efforts to limit abortion access.
With their help and energy, plus the retaliation against those responsible for thinly veiled efforts in several states to suppress the minority vote, the combination of more volunteers, sense of purpose, enthusiasm, personal attention and organization, they could measurably turn out more likely Democratic voters — if they actually get to the polls.
Should all or most of those bricks fall into place, the Democratic vote could increase enough to actually make some difference in the general elections.