Need abortion, will travel? Not so fast.
Last week, Lubbock County in Texas became the fourth (and largest county) in the Lone Star State to ban citizens for helping someone travel out of state for an abortion. These bans pose a further threat to abortion access.
First, a little background: Abortion is completely banned in Texas with exceptions allowed only in very rare circumstances. Even before the Dobbs decision, Texas, with a six-week ban, had one of the strictest abortion laws in the country. Such draconian anti-abortion laws led to a steep decline in abortions. A new report by the Society of Family Planning found that Texas has had the largest decline in abortion care.
As a result, countless pregnant people have traveled out of state. For instance, after the six-week abortion ban, Planned Parenthoods in surrounding states saw a whopping 800 percent increase in abortion patients from Texas. After the reversal of Roe, the average travel time for Texas seeking abortion increased by seven hours. A federal judge specifically said that abortion rights groups, such as abortion funds, would not face charges for helping women access abortion out of state.
Nevertheless, anti-choice lawmakers are persistent in blocking any means to abortion access. And they are doing just that. Lubbock, Goliad, Mitchell, and Cochran counties in Texas have all passed anti-abortion travel ordinances.
Co-opting language from legitimate human trafficking concerns, anti-abortion legislators use the term “trafficking” to prevent people from traveling out of state or helping others to do so. Idaho became the first state in the country to enact such a law preventing people from assisting minors in traveling for abortion care. However, Texas is unique in going after abortion travel for adults, not just minors.
The recently passed Lubbock County ordinance allows anyone to sue another person for assisting someone receive an abortion in the county, such as by procuring abortion pills through the mail. It also permits anyone to sue another person for helping someone travel through Lubbock County in pursuit of an abortion.
It’s worth noting that some of the nearest abortion clinics to Lubbock are in New Mexico, where abortion is legal, and Mexico, where abortion has recently been decriminalized. So sharing websites with abortion information, loaning gas money or helping someone map out their travel route could lead to a lawsuit. These are essentially bounty-hunting laws that deputize ordinary citizens on private, health care matters.
Not surprisingly, supporters of the abortion travel ban cited the bible for their decision, stating that the ban would “protect innocent lives.” One woman who had an abortion 50 years prior said, “I come to this from God’s side. … This is very dear to God. Life is everything.” Yet another case of “abortion for me, but not for thee.”
Outrageously, one pastor said that outlawing abortion was equivalent to the emancipation of slaves after the Civil War. Another commissioner credited his work in anti-abortion centers, also known as crisis pregnancy centers, for his support of the travel ban. Terence Kovar claimed: “Instead of driving all the way to New Mexico, [women can] come and find one of the local places here to help them get through a troubling time and end up having the kid.”
To be clear, anti-abortion centers may be legal, but they are not ethical. Largely supported by churches and Christian nationalist organizations, they sow disinformation about pregnancy and abortion. Anti-abortion centers also receive millions of tax dollars while legitimate abortion clinics are denied funding.
Others did voice their opposition to the abortion travel ban. One woman stated, “There are thousands of people out there who couldn’t come, because they have to work, and believe that a woman’s body is her decision.” Commissioner Gilbert Flores said, “Do I want the authority to tell women what to do and violate their rights? I have a difficult time with that. … I have to obey the constitution of the United States of America, and I have to respect women’s rights.”
Yet, commissioners voted 3-0 to adopt the measure. Confusingly, the law does not apply to cities within Lubbock County. Lubbock County Judge Curtis Parrish rightfully noted that the law had many legal problems.
Abortion bans of all kinds, including travel bans, are counter to science and medical-based evidence. These laws only further Christian nationalist motives and erode secularism. In doing so, pregnant people are put in harm’s way and denied their bodily autonomy.