Roe v. Wade is no longer the law of the land. Texas Senate Bill 8 went into effect on Sept. 1 and functionally banned abortion in the state. A day later, the Supreme Court denied an emergency request from abortion providers to halt the law on the grounds that it violated Court precedents set in Roe and Casey. Staff at some Texas abortion clinics worked up until 11:56p.m. — four minutes before the law took effect — to provide as many patients with abortion care as possible. One report describes silent tears from patients and providers as the constitutional right to abortion guarateneed by Roe quielty slipped away in the dead of night.
SB8 is draconian. One of the most severe abortion bans in recent memory, it bans abortion at the sixth week of pregnancy — before most people even know they’re pregnant. Six-week abortion bans aren’t unusual — dozens of states have proposed or enacted them in recent years to tee up a court challenge to Roe. What distinguishes SB8 from these other bans — and what complicates court proceedings — is its method of enforcement. Rather than the Texas state government enforcing the ban, private citizens are tasked with hunting down and suing anyone who provides or assists in abortions. This doesn’t just mean clinic staff — an Uber driver who gives a pregnant person a ride to their abortion can be sued for violating the law. If the lawsuit is successful, the private citizen receives a $10,000 bounty plus reimbursement for court fees. In short, Texas has annointed each of its citizens as anti-abortion bounty hunters.
Roe isn’t safe in Virginia. With the balance of the Supreme Court now solidly anti-abortion, as demonstrated by their inaction against the Texas law, all that’s stopping Virginia from passing similar legislation to SB8 is Democrats’ narrow control of the General Assembly and Governor’s mansion. Republican candidate for governor Glenn Youngkin — who was caught admitting to deceiving Virginia’s voters about his views on abortion earlier this summer — will no doubt work to ban abortion in Virginia if he wins election. If Republicans win back the General Assembly, they will no doubt support him. With a Supreme Court that seems apathetic about protecting citizens’ constitutional right to abortion, nothing stands in their way.
Virginia uniquely stands as a beacon of reproductive freedom in an increasingly hostile Southern landscape. Many of our neighbors in the South have trigger laws which would ban abortion immediately if Roe was to be overturned at the Supreme Court, and others have unenforced pre-Roe bans on abortion which could be reenforced overnight post-Roe. In stark contrast, Virginia has repealed previous restrictions on abortion providers and allows abortions up until the 25th week of pregnancy. However, the Commonwealth’s pro-choice stance is precarious — all it would take to ban abortion is a few months of Republicans in control of the state government.
Virginia must codify Roe in its state constitution. This means passing legislation which would guarantee the right to choose regardless of any Supreme Court decision to overturn Roe or change in control of the state government. Democratic candidate for governor Terry McAullife called for such in response to Texas’s abortion ban and bounty law. Virginia wouldn’t be the first to codify Roe — 15 states and DC have already done so. U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced that the House would take up the Women’s Health Protection Act when they reconvene later this month, which, if enacted, would codify Roe at the federal level and render laws like SB8 moot.
Roe is not safe. Just because President Biden and the Democrats control the federal government does not mean that the constitutional right to safe and legal abortion will persist. There is a very real possibility that Roe is overturned within the next year as the Supreme Court considers Dobbs v. Jackson. There is a very real possibility that laws like SB8 become the norm in the United States. There is a very real possibility that people seeking abortion care are pushed back into the shadows, persecuted by police and Christian extremists. Now is the time to take action — call your local representative and encourage them to support codifying Roe v. Wade in the Commonwealth.
Noah Strike is an Opinion Columnist for The Cavalier Daily. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.