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Yale 62

The Taliban in Texas?
By David B. Bingham, MD

In last week’s thought-provoking Yale Class of ’62 ‘First Thursday’ Coffee Hour by Zoom (Sept 2), the final topic was about the US withdrawal from Afghanistan.  Questions were raised about what will happen to women in the Taliban culture of religious oppression, and whether their new abilities arising from education, professional training, and social communication will give them some freedom and more political involvement.

David and Annie

David and Annie

The Afghani Taliban government will need women to participate fully, if it is going to have any chance of stabilizing that troubled nation, facing economic collapse, a pandemic, major crop failures and famine.  Most people are very pessimistic about the future.  But the power of young educated women is going to be a force for the government there to reckon with, both socially and politically. They are not likely to submit to repression as quietly as in the past, especially in an age where social media provides them new avenues for networking.

It is ironic that at the same time that Americans virtually across the board are bemoaning the loss of women’s rights on the other side of the planet, religious zealots have banned most abortion in Texas, taking away the very precious and personal right of women to control their own reproductive capacity. The law provides no exceptions even in cases of rape, incest, or physical and psychological health problems.

And, like the wandering Taliban soldiers being given the “freedom” to take religious infractions into their own hands, the Texas legislature has given free rein to vigilantes to invade women’s privacy, and pursue anyone connected to an abortion through courts, fines, and humiliation.  It is outrageous, dangerous, and a wake-up call to the many voters who assumed that this was settled law.

If this Texas ban spreads to other states, and certainly there is political momentum for that to happen, what would access look like? Well, we went through that scenario, while I was an OB-Gyn Resident at the University of Michigan in 1967-71, when abortion was illegal there.

Tens of thousands of Michiganders went by bus, train or plane to get abortions in those few states in which abortion became legal before Roe v. Wade (Colorado, Georgia, New York).  Most of these women were referred by the Clergy Counseling Service (CCS), which helped assure patients were getting good care.  However, there were so many women traveling right after abortions, that inevitably there were hemorrhages or other complications en route.  Major airports and transportation centers had to hire OB-Gyns to be on call.

Having different states with different rules regarding abortions raises the risks and costs.  However, very few abortions, if any, will be prevented by this draconian law.  Once women make this decision, they will almost always find a way to get it done, no matter how risky.

I was recruited by the CCS as a volunteer, to check abortion patients before they traveled, to be sure they were pregnant, were not too far along for a safe abortion, and knew what to expect, and after, to assure they had safe and complete procedures.  Of course that access was only for those young and middle-aged women who could afford the trip and cost of the procedure, which was not covered by insurance.  The poor had a different story.

To get the money, the indigent begged, borrowed or stole it.  Or they prostituted themselves in desperation.  Since trying to get enough funding takes time, the indigent women tended to have even later, and thus more risky, abortions. Moreover, they were afraid to travel, and most would never fly. So they went to back alleys.  I saw them and heard their incredible and scary stories when they came in to the emergency room after botched illegal or self-induced abortions.

So, if the Texas-type bans do spread, wealthier women will be seriously inconvenienced and may end up with some delays before the procedure.  For the poor, however, the story will be one of more significant delays, and much greater emotional and financial distress.  The terrible oppression of the Texas ban will fall most squarely on those with the least ability to travel.

For you legal scholars, note that the equal protection clause seems to be more solid ground than the “right to privacy” as a basis for legalized abortion.  The privacy basis is what may be struck down soon by the US Supreme Court (SCOTUS).  The intrusion on privacy that the Texas law encourages, was ignored by SCOTUS this week, when it failed to restrain the ban.  The rich have always had access to legal abortions, but the poor are the ones being denied access by the Texas Taliban approach.

In Connecticut, the ACLU successfully challenged the denial of Medicaid coverage to women seeking abortions, and our CT Supreme Court agreed, based on the clear evidence that equality under CT law means that the indigent should have the same access to abortion care as those with means (I testified and found several plaintiffs in that case).  Congress should make equal protection the national basis for legalization, to skirt SCOTUS. (If only justices like Gorsuch and Kavanaugh, who grew up in affluence, could be forced to walk a mile in the shoes of a poor and oppressed woman, while pregnant!)

With the new national consciousness of inequality in our systems for health, education, the environment and justice, the adverse impact of the Texas ban on the poor and communities of color will help unite women and men of different backgrounds around this issue. Banning abortion, while empowering vigilantes to intrude on privacy and to punish those breaking the law is especially perverse.  Any such “enforcement” activities will arouse even greater anger and activism nationally.

My guess is that the Texas ban will awaken women across the nation to greater political involvement. “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.” I see this fury being played out in the ballot boxes.  If so, we will see the first evidence of this impact in the mid-term elections in 2022, when independent suburban women will carry the day, linked with their sisters and brothers in movements seeking equal justice under the law, and in health care, the environment, and education.

Until then, Annie and I will be spending time and treasure doing whatever we can to help keep a focus on women’s rights and the environment, “with liberty and justice for all.”

 

We welcome your comments below.

11 comments to The Taliban in Texas?

  • Bill Weber

    David,

    Nice to talk with you and see this excellent treatment of such an important issue.

    Thanks and best wishes. Bill

  • Larry Price

    Dave. I have a question about abortion technology. Specifically the “morning-after” pill. Could a pregnant woman in Texas who is denied access to care use a pill to terminate the pregnancy, or is that too risky?

    • David Bingham,

      Larry – The “morning after pilll” should not be affected, because it only works to delay ovulation and does not work after a pregnancy is established. RU-486, the “abortion pill, on the other hand, will likely be affected.

      It is possible pharmacists will refuse to provide the abortion pill if prescribed in Texas, without proof that the pregnancy is less than 6 weeks along. RU-486 should only be prescribed by a physician or clinic, since it is for terminating pregnancies up to 10 weeks and it is important to have the length of gestation confirmed first, and close follow-up afterwards. However, some apparently can get it on line, so perhaps some in Texas will get around the ban by ordering it on line.

      Hopefully, the Justice Department will successfully get a stay to prevent the Texas ban. While the Supreme Court may well decide to allow states to ban abortions, it is hard to believe they would uphold the Texas law provision for allowing vigilantes a bounty to punish lawbreakers. That really seems a bridge too far even for the most conservative judges. Time will tell.

      • Larry Price

        Dave-Thanks for the information.

        I would not worry about the Texas ban too much. The legal thinking that I have seen is that, while the Supreme Court could not decide the first case because there was really no case, as soon as the first vigilante steps up, there is now a real case to be decided and the decision will be that the law is unconstitutional. That first vigilante better have deep pockets because he is going to have a lot of legal bills. Unfortunately, knowing that, the first vigilante may be a while in showing up, and in the interim, the rest of us are stuck with the uncertainty of a draconian law which is probably unconstitutional but we do not know for sure.

  • John (Jay) Hatch

    Dave,

    Great to hear of the work you are doing and the advocacy you are promoting. I’ll do what I can locally and support what seems effective nationally. I’ll use your Taliban linking with Texas–thanks.

    All the bests,

  • James Kelly

    Dave. Your piece is excellent and the connection of the new Texas law to the rule of the Taliban is very well taken and should be considered by the socially conservative members of the Supreme Court. It is not hyperbole. To me, an outsider to legal practice, Texas “law” seems to have given carte blanche legal standing to the entire Texas population to sue for private behavior not directly affecting them.

  • Dick Riseling

    Thanks for your comparison of the Texas Legislature ban on abortion and empowerment of private vigilante activity to the Taliban. It opens our minds and hearts to understand the extreme nature of the rifts in our society and the stunning failure of our religious and legal institutions. And, thanks for your many years of engagement and persistence for justice.

  • Thank you for this superb and eliminating contribution to our understanding.

  • Ken Merkey

    It is hard to have a sane discussion when one side compares Texas legislators to the Taliban. Last time I looked, in Texas there were no homosexuals being thrown off the roofs of buildings, there were no (reported) beheadings, and there were no 12-year-old child brides.

    As AOC has suggested, anyone who is not menstruating should stay out of this discussion. Hence, I will try and promote a neutral position on abortion.

    I assume that everyone would agree that late term abortions are bad (unless medically necessary). So, the issue in my (simple) mind is: where is the cutoff date? I agree 6 weeks is probably too early. There should also be outs including rape and incest. But abortion on demand is not the answer.

  • George Grumbach

    Ken, abortion “on demand” is a misnomer, because it suggests that women have abortions casually, on a whim, as if they were deciding on taking a vacation. The reality is that almost all women who seek abortions do so with a compelling reason and after a lot of soul-searching. Many women who have abortions already have one or more children. By the way, not all Taliban check all the boxes you list; so the comparison with Texans can be valid even if not all Texans check all the boxes either, although I imagine that some Texans are homophobic and that some are pedophiles, as is the case in the general population.

  • Ken Merkey

    Misnomer? If a woman demands an abortion, then, by definition, it is abortion on demand.

    Not sure of the basis for your argument. Are you defending abortion anytime, anywhere? Where do you draw the line if, in fact, you do draw one? The Virginia governor has no problems with after- birth abortions. Are you OK with that?

    Until the boobs in the White House took over and made the Taliban front page news, no one had given them a second thought for a long time.

    Yes, there are probably some Texans who are homophobic but I don’t remember reading about anyone being thrown off a roof because they were gay. Similarly, I have not seen any news reports about 12-year-old brides in Texas.

    83 % of abortions are to single mothers and 53 % are to Blacks and Hispanics.

    What database or study shows that a lot of soul-searching is going on?

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