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Texas is going vigilante in 2021, brushing aside law enforcement in favor of individuals to sue abortion providers and opening the streets to far more sidearms on hips, to the consternation of police.
A new state law that allows citizens access to state court to sue providers or even anyone who enables someone to get an abortion conducted at six weeks, after a fetal heartbeat can be detected, will impose a near-total ban the practice and upend decades of federal protections under Roe v. Wade.
The new freedom to carry guns in public without a permit removes the only real obstacle to gun ownership in the state.
These are only two of a slew of laws and orders enacted by Republicans who control the government.
They’re also imposing new restrictions on voting rights, controls on how educators can approach politics and race and so much more.
In fact, according to a Texas Tribune review, there are 666 new Texas laws going into effect Wednesday. In some ways, it feels that just as California emerged as the resistance to President Donald Trump, the Lone Star state is emerging as the antipode to Joe Biden’s America.
Crackdown on abortions with help from the public. The abortion ban, which could undermine the landmark Roe v. Wade ruling, was allowed to take effect at midnight Wednesday by the US Supreme Court, which did nothing to stop it.
The new legislation still faces legal challenges and the Supreme Court could ultimately overrule it, but for now the novel attempt to upend decades of settled US abortion law is in effect in Texas.
- Extremely restrictive. Anyone who helps facilitate an abortion, except the mother, could be open to lawsuit.
- Takes effect after six weeks of pregnancy. That’s before many women know they’re pregnant, but when a fetal heartbeat can be detected.
- Fewer exceptions. It has no exception for cases of rape or incest, but it does include an exception for medical emergencies.
- Relies on private citizens. People who facilitate abortions – from doctors to a person providing a ride to the clinic – faces not a criminal penalty or state sanction, but is open to lawsuit by private individuals, even those who have nothing to do with anyone involved in the pregnancy.
- Harder to challenge – Since it relies on private citizens as enforcers, it could be more difficult for abortion rights supporters to challenge the law in court.
Abortion providers in the state say they are ceasing most procedures. Planned Parenthood CEO Alexis McGill told CNN the new Texas abortion law is ‘emblematic of vigilante justice.’
Merriam-Webster’s definition of “vigilante” fits – “a member of a volunteer committee organized to suppress and punish crime summarily (as when the processes of law are viewed as inadequate) broadly: a self-appointed doer of justice.”
CNN’s Ariane de Vogue has the full story, which includes a map of which states have abortion laws more restrictive than Roe. v. Wade, and which would protect abortion rights if the Court ultimately upends the abortion rights precedent. The Court is already set to consider a Mississippi law that bans most abortions after 15 weeks.
Opening up for more guns. Alongside the abortion crackdown, Texans removed the main roadblock to handgun owners, nixing their permit system and joining a handful of other states – Iowa, Tennessee, Montana, Utah and Wyoming.
Gun rights activists like to call the system “Constitutional Carry.” Gone are requirements for safety classes, submit fingerprints, pass a proficiency test and background checks to obtain a license. Now Texans just guy a handgun. It’s still illegal for certain people, like felons, to carry handguns. Those prohibitions are just going to be more difficult to enforce.
Restrictions on voting rights. Democrats in the Texas legislature fled the state this summer to delay passage of its version of the voting restrictions that numerous GOP-controlled states have enacted.
But with that obstruction over, the state legislature passed the bill and sent it to Gov. Greg Abbott, who has said he will sign.
CNN’s Eric Bradner and Dianne Gallagher write the law “takes aim at Harris County, the home of Houston, which last year offered drive-thru voting and 24-hour early voting.”
It restricts voting hours, blocks counties from automatically sending mail-in voting applications, increases protections for partisan poll watchers and sets new limits on those who help voters, including those with disabilities, to cast their ballots.
Confusion about what can be taught in schools. One of several laws meant to crack down on so-called “critical race theory,” Texas teachers are now prohibited from pushing politics in the classroom. But confusion persists about what the new law actually means.
CNN’s Nicole Chavez spoke to nearly two dozen school districts across the state of Texas about how the law was impacting their plans for the school year.
She writes: In College Station, some government teachers won’t be asking students to take notes at city public meetings for a grade. Elementary school students in Leander won’t be asking students to write letters addressing lawmakers anymore. In Keller, some resources offered online to students, including ebooks and news articles have been temporarily removed.
Officials at a school district about 30 miles north of Dallas decided to stop offering course credit to middle school students participating in a renowned nationwide civil engagement program “out of an abundance of caution.” The change was first reported by the Texas Tribune.
In addition, with a nod to the 1619 Project, the effort named for the date African slaves landed in America and encouraging Americans to reexamine the racial past of the country, Texas has created its own commission to pursue an “1836 Project” to push a patriotic appreciation of the state’s history and promote “the Christian heritage of this state.”
Many of these efforts have found their way to the courts. Its bans on mask requirements in schools was suspended, temporarily, as court challenges play out.
The most consequential, however, may be the six-week abortion ban, which, for now, is the law.