Thistlethwaite: Texas, hands off women’s bodies
Honestly, it’s not safe to be a woman in Texas these days. Or a man who supports a woman’s right to choose.
Texas has just passed draconian legislation that prohibits abortion as early as six weeks, and that relies on private citizens to sue people who help women get forbidden abortions.
This new law effectively puts a bounty on stalking women and those who would help them exercise their constitutionally protected reproductive rights. Any U.S. citizen can sue Texas-based abortion clinics, doctors, and anyone who aids in an abortion. If successful, the petitioner, who does not have to reside in Texas, will receive a $10,000 award and the cost for attorney’s fees.
This is blatantly unconstitutional as it effectively eliminates the guarantee in Roe versus Wade and subsequent Supreme Court decisions that women have a right to end their pregnancies before viability, and that states may not impose undue burdens on that decision.
But the radical Roberts’ Supreme Court has refused to block it, and this law has gone into effect.
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Justice Sonia Sotomayor was very pointed in her dissent: “The Court’s order is stunning,” she wrote. “Presented with an application to enjoin a flagrantly unconstitutional law engineered to prohibit women from exercising their constitutional rights and evade judicial scrutiny, a majority of Justices have opted to bury their heads in the sand.”
This bounty-hunting on women for trying to exercise their reproductive rights is particularly hypocritical coming from conservatives who now use the hashtag #mybodymychoice to tout their anti-mask views.
But, not only is there a constitutional objection to be made to this horrible Texas law, there is also a religious objection to be made.
On Sept. 15, 2005, I was invited to be an expert witness in the confirmation hearings for Justice John Roberts to be chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. I also did a C-Span interview on my reasons for testifying. You may watch that and my testimony on C-Span.org.
In the dialogue with those who phoned in on the C-Span program, I made an argument that as a Christian pastor and teacher, I believe in the freedom of conscience. My church, the United Church of Christ, also upholds the freedom of conscience. As a person of faith, and a person of conscience, I support women’s reproductive rights. Women have personal, moral autonomy and should be protected in their right to exercise it.
The state of Texas has just trashed that right for women and those who support them in the exercise of that right. Women, in light of this appalling law, are not considered fully autonomous human beings. They have been reduced to just a means to an end, the end being reproduction. Their right to be moral agents who can make good judgments about their bodies has been eliminated.
Putting a bounty on attempting to exercise a constitutionally protected right is frankly appalling. Women and those who seek to help them will be spied on. This could become a way for abusive spouses or partners to legally harass women, and potentially get paid for it. A cottage industry of spying on women is likely to open up, funded by the radical right wing.
Right now, Texas is not a good place to be a woman or man of conscience when it comes to women’s reproductive rights.
It is clear this intrusive and immoral Texas law needs to be declared unconstitutional. But it is also clear that the country as a whole needs to be confronted with the moral and ethical question: Are women fully human?
Rev. Dr. Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite is president emerita and professor emerita of Chicago Theological Seminary. She and her husband now make their home in the Vail Valley.