The Link Between Texas’s New Abortion Law and its New Voting Laws

For decades, Republican strategists have seen exploiting both issues as a way to hang on to power.

Written by Sue Halpern and published in the New Yorker 9/3/2021

Photo by Ali Khalil on

Insurance companies, taxi-drivers, friends, donors to nonprofits, health-care workers—any and all people with even a minor role in enabling an abortion are potentially liable. The law is not only a radical departure from convention, it’s a repudiation of due process, granting standing to individuals who otherwise wouldn’t have it. A more judicious Court, rather than one with a majority of Justices selected because of their ideological opposition to abortion, would have halted the implementation of the Texas law for this reason alone.

The Roe decision took a calendar approach to abortion, allowing a woman to terminate a pregnancy for almost any reason during the first two trimesters, with some state regulation of abortion allowed after the first trimester, and more after the second trimester, at which point a fetus is viable outside the womb, and a state’s interest in protecting it becomes “compelling.” Even so, anti-abortion activists used the trimester timetable to chip away at Roe. The Court’s 1992 ruling in Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey upheld a constitutional right to abortion, but eliminated the trimester timetable, which opened the door for states to determine their own standards surrounding fetal viability. Scores of restrictive statutes followed.

According to the Guttmacher Institute, a pro-choice nonprofit, between January, 2011, and July, 2019, states enacted four hundred and eighty-three new abortion restrictions. The Texas law, S.B. 8, is the most recent and extreme iteration of these. At six weeks, many women do not know that they are pregnant, but, according to anti-abortion activists, that is when a fetal heartbeat is first discernible. Medical professionals, though, say that this is misleading, because at six weeks, though the cells that will eventually form a heart may have begun to emit electrical signals, a fetal heart will not fully develop for about another fourteen weeks. Nevertheless, S.B. 8 penalizes health-care providers who fail to search for a signal or who continue to treat the patient if they detect it.

Texas was already one of the most difficult places in the country to obtain an abortion. Guttmacher reports that there was a twenty-five-per-cent decline in the number of abortion clinics in the state between 2014 and 2017. In 2017, ninety-six per cent of Texas counties had no abortion facilities. Last year, Governor Greg Abbott issued a temporary ban on certain health-care procedures, including abortions, ostensibly because of the coronavirus pandemic. If the ban had been long-term or strictly implemented, women in the state would have had to travel an average of four hundred and forty-seven miles, round trip, to obtain abortion services.

What makes the Texas law especially odious is that, by empowering random individuals to enforce it rather than leaving that to officials, the authors of S. B. 8 have complicated the ability of abortion-rights advocates to block the law in court, as there is no state agent to sue. As Chief Justice Roberts wrote in his dissent, “The desired consequence appears to be to insulate the State from responsibility for implementing and enforcing the regulatory regime.” This clever subterfuge gave the Court’s conservatives an opportunity to make the disingenuous claim that they were allowing the law to stand because it was not yet clear that the defendants in the case “can or will seek to enforce the Texas law against the applicants in a manner that might permit our intervention.” The Justices further claimed that they were not ruling on the merits or the constitutionality of the law—though it is unconstitutional, according to the protections afforded by Roe—and suggested that the plaintiffs could, in theory, challenge S.B. 8 going forward. In a stinging dissent, Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote, “Taken together, the act is a breathtaking Act of defiance—of the Constitution, of this Court’s precedents, and of the rights of women seeking abortions throughout Texas.” And what of those women? According to a report in the Texas Tribune, the day before the law went into effect, a clinic in Fort Worth saw more than a hundred women right up to the midnight deadline. The next day, they had to turn away patients who no longer met the new restrictions.As the challenge to S.B. 8 was working its way through the courts, Republicans in the Texas legislature were busy writing similarly draconian laws to make it harder to vote, especially for people of color. S.B. 1, the bill that inspired Democratic legislators to flee the state earlier this summer in order to deprive their Republican colleagues of a quorum, was finally passed this week, and was sent to Governor Abbott for his signature. Among its provisions, the law requires monthly citizenship checks; entitles partisan poll watchers to move freely within polling sites and makes it a criminal offense to obstruct their observation of election workers; and eliminates twenty-four-hour and drive-through voting. Though the two laws address different domains, they are connected: in Texas and elsewhere in the country, a ligature of racism connects efforts to deny people of color their right to vote and women—disproportionately women of color—their right to terminate a pregnancy.

The Roberts Court’s 2013 decision in Shelby County v. Holder, which gutted key provisions of the Voting Rights Act, enabled Republican legislatures to pass hundreds of laws, such as S.B. 1, in Texas, to make it harder for people—again, particularly people of color—to vote. (The Voting Rights Act was intended to rectify the long history of denying Black Americans all the benefits of citizenship, including the right to cast a ballot.) Well before Shelby, in the nineteen-eighties, Republican strategists, most notably Paul Weyrich, who famously said that “our leverage in the elections quite candidly goes up as the voting populace goes down,” understood that to hold on to power Republicans had to do two things: keep Democrats from voting and find new Republican allies.

People of color were a suitable target for their first aim, since they tended to vote, overwhelmingly, for Democrats—hence the various attempts to suppress the vote in the years before Holder, such as gerrymandering and the multitude of laws passed in its wake. Meanwhile, some evangelical Christians, who had largely eschewed politics, turned out to be ripe for conversion when they found themselves unable to obtain tax-exempt status for “segregation academies”—schools that followed what they claimed to be a Biblical mandate to keep the races apart. According to the historian Randall Balmer, in 1979, six years after Roe, Weyrich encouraged Jerry Falwell and other evangelical leaders to seize “on abortion not for moral reasons, but as a rallying-cry to deny President Jimmy Carter a second term . . . because the anti-abortion crusade was more palatable than the religious right’s real motive: protecting segregated schools.”

It is undeniable that there are sincere people with a deeply held belief in the sanctity of life, which, for them, overrides a woman’s right to control her own body, but that is not the motivation of the authors of S.B. 8. If it were, we would see those legislators apply the same standard to gun control, abolition of the death penalty, enforcement of public-health mandates, and a commitment to the social welfare of children, especially children born into poverty. Instead, those legislators appeal to “the right to life” in the same way that they invoke the term “voter fraud”—in order to consolidate their power and pursue an anti-democratic agenda.

President Biden responded to the Supreme Court majority’s decision to abet this ploy by stating that his Administration would be launching “a whole-of-government effort to respond . . . to ensure that women in Texas have access to safe and legal abortions as protected by Roe, and what legal tools we have to insulate women and providers from the impact of Texas’ bizarre scheme of outsourced enforcement to private parties.” Others reacting to the Court’s dereliction have renewed calls to add more Justices and to end the filibuster. There are also calls for Congress to pass the Women’s Health Protection Act in order to create a federal abortion law to override S.B. 8 and other anti-abortion state statutes. Still, though any of these measures has the potential to reinforce the protections codified by Roe, none of them will help the women who are being turned away from clinics now, and they won’t shield their supporters from the bounty hunters who have been authorized to track them down. And, given the glacial pace of congressional “action,” these measures likely won’t prevent other states from passing copycat anti-abortion statutes. (Within twenty-four hours of the law’s going into effect, the president of the Florida state Senate said that he was considering introducing similar legislation.)

By doing nothing to stop S.B. 8, the Court has effectively sanctioned extortion. Days before the Texas law went into effect, an activist on TikTok posted a computer script designed to overwhelm a Web site created by an anti-abortion group to report those who have violated the law; the script allows users to inundate the site with fake claims. How pathetic that a few lines of code may have temporarily offered the most effective way to protect the rights of Texan women.

Are Democrats Fading?

Why America’s Losing Faith in the Democrats

What Biden’s Plummeting Approval Rating Really Means

Written by Umair Haque and published in 8/31/2021

You don’t have to look very hard to see something troubling. Joe Biden’s approval ratings are beginning to plummet. They’ve fallen 16 percent since the beginning of the summer. That’s a tremendous decline. Just 46% of Americans now approve of the job Biden’s doing, while 55% disapprove.

This is a stunning reversal in political fortunes. Biden rode to power on a remarkable wave of goodwill, at least from the centre outwards. And while the question of “approval” is in a very real sense a reductive and foolish one, still, American politics is made of such folly. So: is Biden’s reversal of fortune a blip — or trend?

Let me begin on a note of caution. Biden’s fans are becoming something of a cult. They brook no criticism, and don’t want others to, either. They expect an atmosphere of relentless positivity, not free thinking and reason. This is going to be a critical essay, like most essays should be. It is not going to go easy on Biden. As much as I like the man, reality is what it is, and Biden’s approval ratings are indeed cratering. And so, even if his most ardent fans don’t want it to be, the question now urgently needs to be asked: why is America beginning to disapprove of Joe Biden?

Pundits will tell you that this is probably no mere blip. They’ll point to three key areas of disapproval. The disastrous exit from Afghanistan, which has humiliated America around the world. Yet another wave of Covid, surging across the nation, Red States again becoming some of the world’s hottest plague zones. And the economy, which, despite appearances, beyond headline statistics, is still a thing of daily strife and struggle for the vast majority of Americans, who are underpaid, overworked, exploited, demeaned, devalued, and made to feel (and end up being literally) worthless.

On the surface, those three answers are correct. Biden has misjudged these three crises. And yet the issues here cut much, much deeper than that. How deep? Existentially deep, for the Democrats.

The Democrats won the last election not because Joe Biden was Joe Biden. But because he wasn’t Donald Trump. There is a very big difference between those two things. The nation wasn’t particularly hungry for Joe Biden as much as it was disgusted by the fetid, rank taste in the mouth left after the fascism, corruption, and obscenity of the Trump years. Joe Biden pitched himself — smartly — as the anti-Trump: calm, competent, friendly, kind.

Through all that, the Dems managed something remarkable — at least for American politics. They cobbled together a coalition of the centre and the left. Of young and old. Of black and white and beyond. This was a true “big tent,” as the phrase goes. There was room, it seemed, for everyone who wanted to be in — even if tensions simmered once they stood awkwardly shoulder-to-shoulder under the canopy.

This was a remarkable feat because it very, very rarely happens in American politics. It’s business as usual in Europe and Canada — the centre and left are smart enough there to know that they must be united to defeat the right. Yet there “centre” and “left” mean different things, too, just as in America, right wing basically means “gun loving fascist,” or close enough to it. The Dems rode to power by pulling off, at least for American politics, a minor-league political miracle — they united the centre and left, who are usually at each others’ throats.

Usually, what happens in American politics is the opposite. If the Dems do make inroads, and win power, it’s by winning over the right. They tack right, as Clinton did, turning punitive and harsh, saluting free markets, and celebrating individualism and materialism. Uniting the centre and left is so rare in American politics that the Dems should be given credit for doing so.

But not too much credit. I don’t say that to be mean, just to be realistic. America — at least half of it or so — was literally ready to vote for anyone who wasn’t Trump. It’s a testament to how weak the Dems appeal really is that they didn’t do better at the last Presidential election, which wasn’t a landslide, even if it was a decisive victory. It wasn’t the sweeping rejection of fascism America needed, in just that way. A majority of white Americans still voted for Trump — that is how badly Biden is and was rejected.

If you grasp all that, then you should also see the following conclusion coming. For the Democrats to retain power — and that means both winning the House and another term for Biden — they have to keep on pulling off a political miracle in America. They need to keep their fragile coalition of centre and left, of young and old, of black and white, from shattering.

That’s no easy task. Because these two groups under the same big tent — center and left — have very, very different agendas. Often opposing ones. Ones that are in direct conflict with each other. And right about now, what is happening is that those differing agendas and visions of these two wings of the party are coming into direct conflict — and the Democrats’ fragile coalition is starting to splinter.

Let’s take the issue of Afghanistan. American leftists are giddy that the war is over. They celebrate the end of “imperialism” (which is wrong, because the Taliban is one of America’s imperial armies, one which spun out of control, but that’s a different topic.) But the centre is not so sure. They wonder about Biden’s competence. His backbone. His will and vision and purpose. Did it have to be this way, they ask? I’ll come back to that, in just a moment, in case it’s not clear.

Then there’s the economy. The centre seems alright, if not overjoyed, with the job Biden’s doing. They like the infrastructure plans and stimulus and all those big headline numbers that pop up often now. They are optimistic and excited by America investing in itself again.

But the left has been waiting for more — much, more. And it’s sharply disappointed that the Dems have caved on several key issues. They haven’t cancelled student debt. They haven’t raised the minimum wage — at least not fast or far enough. The left understands, too — at least the smarter elements in it — that those big headline numbers aren’t enough. Not to bring American investment levels to Canadian or European levels. That, comparatively, they lift American investment by a tiny 5% or so, if that — when it needs to rise by 25%.

Then there’s Covid. The left believes firmly in mask mandates and basic public safety measures. It goes further than that — and its more intelligent elements, again, believe that vaccines should be a true global public good, not a patent protected money-making scheme America defends at the WHO because billionaires stand to make even more. The centre, though, seems largely complacent. It seems resigned to the idea that Covid will go on forever, that everyone will need a booster shot, that it will be a bonanza for capitalism, that nothing much more can — or should — be done about it. The centre has little will to continue taking on Covid.

I could go on. The left wants bold, direct investment in “climate change” — sorry, I mean global warming — a Green New Deal. The centre is complacent and reluctant to kill the golden goose of the American economy, which is plastic junk and carbon emissions. And so forth.

What does all that mean, though? What does it say?

Something like this.

Fractures are beginning to crack through the Democrats’ fragile coalition. Ones which were there, from the very beginning — mere ripples, threatening to harden and widen into true fissures. Now all that is becoming very real.

The left is growing embittered and disillusioned on one side, and the centre on the other. More precisely, exactly what embitters and disillusions the left is what pleases and satisfies the center — and vice versa. Afghanistan — left, leave, center, not so sure. Climate — left, invest, center, don’t kill the golden goose. Economy — left, more, center, that’s enough, thanks. And so on.

The natural opposition between left and centre is arising again. It’s the issue which has bedevilled American politics from time immemorial. Yesteryear’s leftists were profoundly opposed to slavery and segregation — and the centrists shrugged, called it wrong, profited from it, and blithely let it all go on anyways. You see the problem. A divided left and centre are why America is such a backwards country — and a united centre and left are, by contrast, why Europe and Canada are able to make real progress, over and over again.

When what pleases one faction of the party is also exactly what angers and causes resentment and rage in the other, a political coalition is unlikely to be able to hold. That is the true challenge the Dems face — navigating this Scylla and Charybdis of American political waters. Few have been able to do it (and even more viciously, those few who have, like JFK and Lincoln, were killed as a reward for it.)

The Democrats’ nightmare scenario goes like this. Their coalition goes on fracturing, and finally splinters. At the next set of elections — Presidential and Congressional — an embittered, resentful left stays at home. That means young people and minorities, who don’t turn out. Meanwhile, some portion of the vast majority of American whites go back to their long-standing pattern — they vote Republican again, as they and their parents and grandparents always have. The right wins easily, and — hey presto — Trump’s back in office.

The Dems don’t know what hit them. Just like that — snap! — Joe Biden’s a one term President.

We’re not there yet, at the nightmare scenario. But we’re moving one step closer to it, day by day. The fragile Democratic coalition is fracturing. The natural tensions between left and centre are not being resolved. They are simmering into open conflict. Meanwhile, Biden’s much-vaunted competence is being called into question, which creates doubt among all those centrists, who want just want a polite, competent enough middle manager of a declining empire, not a man on a moral crusade to change the world.

The resentment and bitterness among the left is growing each and every day. And on those issues where the Dems please it — like the chaotic departure from Afghanistan — they manage to alienate and sow the seeds of doubt in everyone else.

In the end, it might not be possible to hold together a coalition as fragile as this. The American left is impatient, demoralized, and angry — while the American centre is craven, overcautious, compromise on anything and everything, from rescuing a dying planet to investing enough in the future, as long as they get their big TVs and SUVs and low, low taxes.

Many have tried walking this tightrope before. Few have succeeded. And like I said, those tiny, tiny few who did succeed? Well, they were killed for it, anyways. Those are the stakes, my friends.

My feeling? Biden has the toughest job in the world — and it’s only going to get harder from here.