Unprecedented Texas Senate Bill 8 rattles Bay Area’s pro-choice activists

The marches against Texas SB 8 held in San Francisco and San Jose were among 600 events that took place throughout the United States on Oct. 2, 2021.

Pro-choice activists in the Bay Area and around the country are anxiously awaiting a final court decision on Texas’ Senate Bill 8 – the most restrictive anti-abortion law in the country.

In just one month, the bill has been instated by the governor, overturned by a district judge, and reinstated by a federal appeals court.

“The one thing that is highly abnormal here is that Texas engineered this statute, which is unique and unprecedented, to try to get around federal judicial review,” said Diego A. Zambrano, associate professor of Law at Stanford University.

Senate Bill 8 encourages private citizens to file suit against those who “aid and abet” a woman seeking abortion care after 6 weeks of pregnancy. The bill throws constitutionality into question: while Roe v. Wade protects a woman’s right to an abortion without government restriction, Senate Bill 8 places onus on private citizens, rather than the state, to enforce the law.

Still, it is unclear where the bill’s future lies.

“On the one hand, this law is a blatant violation of a constitutional right. On the other hand, maybe the drafters were predicting that eventually, the U.S. Supreme Court would overturn Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey,” Zambrano said. “It’s not a bad bet, considering the configuration of the court.”

The uncertainty of the law’s constitutionality underscores the anxiety many abortion-rights activists in the Bay Area feel about the possibility of Roe being overturned.

Before the latest court wrangling, thousands of Bay Area residents marched in Oct. 2 rallies from San Francisco to San Jose to demonstrate in favor of abortion rights.

Raven Gosney walked alongside thousands of activists in San Francisco. Gosney was surrounded by pink hats, brightly colored costumes and faces sparkling with glitter – but unlike those around her, Gosney was dressed in black.

“I went full Victorian widow’s weeds, since I’m mourning the loss of women’s reproductive rights,” said Gosney, hoisting a tombstone-shaped poster above her head. “I’m here to show up, march with my sisters, and say this isn’t acceptable.”

Gosney was just one of an estimated 8,000 protesters in San Francisco – and tens of thousands in the United States – who rallied for abortion rights that day.

“What’s happening in Texas is going to lead to a trickle-down effect,” said Selam Asmerom, a leading member of the event’s organizing group, Women’s March. “If something happens in Texas, other states will know that they can do it too. Whether we’re in Texas, California or Georgia, all of us are affected by state laws in some way or the other.”

Senate Bill 8 has led many to fear that copycat bills could make their way across the country.

As the group wound its way throughout the city, more seemed to join their ranks. Protesters chanted, sung and cheered while they walked through the streets, drowning out the occasional anti-abortion activist if they voiced their own chants from the sidelines.

The frustration, fury and fear of protesters echoed through their megaphones. Many protesters voiced concerns that the brunt of anti-abortion laws would be borne by low-income women, women of color and other marginalized groups.

“If you don’t have the resources to travel hundreds of miles for an abortion, what are your options?” said Naomi Osterweil, a resident of Albany. “That’s extremely worrisome.”

In San Jose, Corina Herrera-Loera and husband Gerardo Loera, descendants of the indigenous Huichol tribe in Mexico, opened the rally with a land acknowledgement and native prayer blessing marchers. Hayward Councilman Aisha Wahab, the first Afghan-American woman elected to public office, featured as the rally’s emcee.

“Our mission here is to ensure that the country and Supreme Court understand the importance of Roe v. Wade. […] We also want to recognize the added struggle and peril for people of color who are more directly impacted by racism and misogyny that fuels these restrictions,” Wahab told marchers.

All but one of the speakers at the rally were women of color, and all the speakers acknowledged race-based disparities in women’s health care.

“Making abortion unsafe anywhere makes abortion care unsafe for all of us,” said Dr. Erica Cahill, an obstetrician-gynecologist at Stanford Hospital.

Black women may have more to lose from the Texas abortion restrictions. The CDC Abortion Surveillance survey revealed non-Hispanic Black women had 21.2 abortions per 1,000 women, the highest abortion rate of any other race category in 2018, the latest year for which data is available. The same data showed non-Hispanic white women had the lowest abortion rate at 6.3 abortions per 1,000 women.

Rally organizers emphasized that the solution to health disparities for minority women depended on better representation. Sarah Fernando is a transgender woman and chief diversity officer of Silicon Valley Pride who spoke about the neglect that transgender women face in their communities.

“We need to be intentional in being inclusive. […] If you do not have a seat at the table, bring a folding chair,” Fernando said.

The marches in San Francisco and San Jose were among 600 that took place throughout the United States, with 12 rallies recorded in the Bay Area alone. The first Women’s March took place in January of 2017, in which an estimated 3 million participants protested Donald Trump’s first day as U.S. president. Five years later, Women’s March organizers are hoping to revitalize the movement in response to Texas’s ban.

Also on the minds of protesters is a case soon to hit the Supreme Court’s docket, Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, a case based out of Mississippi that would prohibit abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy. With a conservative majority on the Supreme Court, some predict that this case could overturn Roe v. Wade, along with the decades-old abortion protections that came with it.

The argument for that case begins on Dec. 1, 2021.

“This was never about just preventing abortions – it’s about controlling women’s bodies,” said Connie Jeung-Mills, a resident of San Francisco. “It’s important for women to be able to control their own destiny, and abortion and reproductive rights are part of that. This has been going on a long time, and I can’t believe we’re still here, fighting for our rights. But I’ll do whatever it takes.”

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