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Tri-campus splits over Texas abortion law

| Monday, September 13, 2021

The tri-campus community, known for its active debate over abortion, remains divided over Senate Bill 8, a new law enacted in Texas that prohibits abortions after about six weeks, or once a fetal heartbeat can be detected. 

The Supreme Court struck down an emergency appeal to stop the bill Sept. 1 in a 5-4 vote but remains open to future challenges.

For now, Senate Bill 8 blocks many of the typical routes for legal challenge by transferring the responsibility of enforcement from legal and state officials to ordinary citizens.

Under the legislation, everyday Texas citizens can sue abortion providers or anyone who aids and abets in an abortion after the 6-week mark. If they win, plaintiffs collect $10,000 in damages from each defendant. State officials are prohibited from enforcing the bill. 

In an opinion piece published in The Washington Post, O. Carter Snead, a Notre Dame law professor, explained the citizen suit” approach strategically evades pre-enforcement junctions, highlighting the need for more clear laws and local power over abortion.

How did we get to this place in our national discourse on abortion where instead of arguing how to care rightly for women, children and families, we are screaming about the legal technicalities of pre-enforcement challenges’ and ‘sovereign immunity’? Snead asked in the op-ed.

Snead wrote overturning Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey will clear up the legal convulsion and give American people the opportunity to govern themselves on the issue.

Members of the Notre Dame Right to Life, a University club with the mission to honor human life from conception to natural death, celebrated the new Texas abortion law as a small victory, viewing it as one step towards respecting life from the moment of conception.

Courtesy of Maggie Murray
Right to Life Members met on South Quad for their LifeFest event last Friday, just days after the Texas law went into effect.

“I love that it’s a heartbeat bill because it recognizes the reality of fetal development,“ Mary Biese, a senior and director of education for Notre Dame Right to Life, said. 

Senate Bill 8 defines a fetal heartbeat as the steady and repetitive rhythmic contraction of the fetal heart within the gestational sac.”

Those in favor of abortion disagree over the term “heartbeat bill,” disputing whether the cardiac activity at six weeks can be called a heartbeat.

According to a 2019 study compiled by a University of Oxford Cardiovascular Medicine research fellow, active fetal blood circulation begins around week four with the four-chambered heart developing by week seven.

Biese considers the “Heartbeat Bill” a small victory in Texas but points out that the anti-abortion movement has a long way to go, both on the nationwide legislative and local social fronts.

“Woman and child are put against each other all the time,” Biese said. “Being there for these women now is more important than policy debates.”

Through sidewalk counseling, family resource centers and productive dialogue, Biese hopes to dismantle the culture of fear and shame surrounding unwanted pregnancy starting with local communities.

Others in the tri-campus community disagree with the anti-abortion stance, which they describe “anti-choice.”

Lily Storrs, a Notre Dame sophomore and board member of Irish for Reproductive Health, said she felt sick upon hearing the news of the Texas abortion restrictions.

“Banning abortions will not stop them, it will just stop safe abortions,” Storrs said in an email correspondence. “While we acknowledge that students might not agree with abortion, we would deeply appreciate students to honor the dignity of a right to choose.”

Irish for Reproductive Health is a nonprofit seeking to expand sexual health resources at Notre Dame.

Storrs said the University denied the group official status in the past. University spokesperson Dennis Brown said the University has not received any applications from Irish for Reproductive Health.

Our perspectives are not encouraged or welcomed to the same degree as those who are anti-choice,” Storrs said.

Megan King, leader of Smicks for Choice, a student-led club not affiliated with Saint Mary’s College, was similarly shocked and disheartened by the news from Texas.

“There are a large portion of people who will not even know that they are pregnant at six weeks,” King said in an email.

As anti-abortion social media accounts serving the tri-campus celebrated the Texas legislation, King’s heart sank.

“No one should be celebrating the massive injustice that was done to the people of Texas,” King said.

Board members for the College Democrats club said when it comes to campus dialogue on the Texas abortion law, social media disputes seem to arise more often than in-person discussion.

Junior Anna Guzman said a male Notre Dame student initiated a direct message argument in response to her abortion-rights Instagram post.

“Guys seem more willing to fight about it,” she said.

Sophomore Alexandra Conley said the Texas abortion restrictions initiated a fearful reaction, especially given the timing of the bill nearly a year after Notre Dame Law professor Amy Coney Barret was appointed to replace late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg.

This is what we were afraid of,” Conley said, reflecting on the appointment.

Sophomore Sydney Dittmar believes extenuating circumstances were not taken into account in the legislation, which allows abortion when the mother’s life is at risk but makes no exception for cases of incest or rape.

Conley, Guzman and Dittmar all serve on the board for College Democrats, but they have not discussed the Texas abortion legislation as a club. In order to remain affiliated with the University, the club cannot take an abortion-rights stance, Guzman said.

According to the du Lac Student Activities Policy, No organization, or member of any organization on behalf of the organization, may encourage or participate in any activity which contravenes the mission of the University or the moral teachings of the Catholic Church.

The three women agree that the University fosters a one-sided atmosphere for the debate over abortion and reproductive rights.

Dittmar said limited access to birth control on campus is one example of the culture.

Other schools practically throw condoms out the windows,” Dittmar said. I’ve known girls here who [have] had to walk to an off-campus CVS to get birth control.”

In 2018, the University began providing access to approved forms of pre-conception birth control through the Walgreens at St. Liam’s Health Center under University health insurance plans that cover many employees and some students.

University spokesperson Dennis Brown said graduate students can fill a birth control prescription for any reason and undergraduate students can fill a prescription for a medical reason, whether they are covered by the University’s health care or not.

Father Jenkins wrote a letter in 2018 explaining the change, emphasizing the difficulty of the decision and how the University will not provide abortifacients drugs or drugs that intend to end a pregnancy after conception.

The University takes no stance on Texas Senate Bill 8, Brown said.

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