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‘Abortion Is Illegal Here’: Texas Jumps In After Roe Overturned

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(Bloomberg) -- Abortion is now illegal in Texas after the US Supreme Court’s reversal of the landmark Roe v. Wade case triggered a pre-existing state law, Attorney General Ken Paxton announced.

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“Today, the question of abortion returns to the states,” Paxton said in an email. “And in Texas, that question has already been answered: abortion is illegal here.”

Texas is the biggest US state to prohibit abortion after Friday’s ruling by a deeply divided Supreme Court overturning the bedrock case that underpinned American reproductive-rights law for almost half a century. The decision triggered protests and angry denunciations from elected officials across the nation, while throwing non-profits assisting women seeking the procedure into tumult.

The Supreme Court ruling creates “a new landscape for abortion rights,” according to Frontera Fund, a group based in the Texas border town of McAllen that helps mostly Hispanic women in search of abortions. Frontera “is pausing funding.”

“We helped pay for flights, lodging, meals, childcare, gas money, basically anything they needed to leave the state,” said Zaena Zamora, Frontera’s executive director. “We don’t know how we move forward. This is new for everyone.”

Missouri also declared abortion immediately outlawed and 24 other states are poised to follow in the post-Roe era; many already have so-called trigger laws on the books that automatically restrict abortions in the event of just such a Supreme Court decision.

Conservative Texan lawmakers are now looking for further ways to limit abortion access, including curbing out-of-state travel for the procedure. Fourteen Republican state representatives, led by Briscoe Cain, vowed to introduce bills in the next legislative session to penalize companies that help employees access abortions.

The proposals would bar such companies from doing business with the state and would also open corporate directors and officers up to criminal charges. The legislature convenes again in January. Cain made headlines in March when he warned Citigroup Inc. it could face criminal charges if it continued to fund employee out-of-state travel for abortions.

Any future action by Texas legislators may ultimately be deemed unconstitutional, though. Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, who voted with the majority in Friday’s ruling, said in a concurrent opinion that states outlawing abortion may not bar residents from traveling to other states to terminate their pregnancies. Doing so would violate the right to interstate travel, he said.

Texas Governor Greg Abbott and Democratic challenger Beto O’Rourke issued dueling statements after the ruling, with O’Rourke urging pro-choice voters to back his campaign.

“If you are about protecting a woman’s freedom to make her own decisions about her own body, health care, and future, join this campaign and help us win,” O’Rourke said in an emailed statement. “The only way to overcome today’s decision is to win this race for governor.”

Abbott applauded the court’s decision “to protect innocent, unborn children.” He said Texas has expanded programs for women seeking to avoid abortion, including extending Medicaid coverage to six months after birth, and vowed to continue to work with lawmakers to limit abortions.

No Democrat has won statewide office in Texas since 1994, but O’Rourke, a former congressman from El Paso, has gained ground against incumbent Abbott in recent polls. Abbott, a Republican seeking a third term in November, has a lead of five percentage points over O’Rourke, according to a Quinnipiac University poll last week.

Prior to the Supreme Court decision on Friday, the Lone Star State already had one of the nation’s most restrictive laws, passed last year, which effectively banned abortions after fetal cardiac activity could be detected, usually about six weeks into a pregnancy. It employs a unique enforcement mechanism under which state officials are forbidden from enforcing the ban. Instead, private citizens are allowed to sue and collect as much as $10,000 if successful. Under the law, doctors, clinic workers, friends and even Uber drivers who helped transport the patient could be sued for helping a woman end an unwanted pregnancy past the cutoff date.

The Roe decision was originally based on a challenge to a Texas law that forbade abortion. While the Supreme Court ruled that to be unconstitutional in 1973, establishing the nationwide right to abortion, lawmakers never took the original statute off the books. Paxton’s announcement on Friday was based on that earlier contested law.

Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins, a Democrat, pledged to find ways to support pregnant women post-Roe.

“I will work with Dallas County Health and Human Services, the Commissioners Court and the private sector to protect women’s health,” said Jenkins, the highest-ranking county executive in the area that includes the state’s third-largest city. “One of those efforts will be to lower the cost and increase access to birth control.”

Meanwhile, Texas House Speaker Dade Phelan, a Republican, promised to increase funding for “maternal health care and resources for women, children, and families,” according to a tweet. “That starts with extending postpartum health coverage for new moms to 12 months and continuing to prioritize support and resources for women and families in Texas.”

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