Texas Steps on the First Amendment of the Constitution

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Courtesy of Hillel Steinberg (Flickr CC0)

Texas law SB-8 effectively makes all abortions illegal after six weeks, usually when a fetal heartbeat can be detected. With this law, the state’s legislature and governor effectively stepped on the 1st Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Since the law took effect on Sept. 1, 2021, several legal maneuvers have been brought forth.

Abortion clinics in North Texas immediately appealed to the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS), asking them to intervene on unconstitutional grounds.

The First Amendment establishes the separation of church and state.  This is to prevent elected officials from forcing their own religious beliefs on the people they represent, so citizens are free to practice their faith however they feel comfortable without the fear of persecution. Texas’s new law steps all over the country’s First Amendment rights.

SB-8 was initially signed into law on May 19 by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott. The law is unique in its approach to enforcement. Anyone who performs an abortion after six weeks can be held liable for up to 10,000 dollars. This can also include the women having the procedure and anyone involved, no matter how remote. Even the nurses involved in the procedure and receptionists who made the appointment or signed the patient into the office can be charged as accessories and may have to pay restitution and legal fees.

According to Justice Sonia Sotomayor, Texas is turning ordinary citizens into bounty hunters. Anyone can report a woman for having an abortion, and she can be sued and face legal consequences — even someone who is not personally acquainted with the patient. The person suing can be someone who merely overheard a conversation about having an abortion.

On the night of September 1, SCOTUS was asked to intervene. However, after more than 24 hours of silence the court presented a 5-4 decision to allow the most controversial unconstitutional law in the nation’s history to stand. The highest court in the U.S., allowed a woman’s worst fear to become reality. Women in Texas lost the right to make a major medical decision that concerns their bodies.

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Courtesy of Josh (Flickr CC0)

The three liberal justices, Sotomayor, Elena Kagan, and Stephen Breyer were joined by Chief Justice John Roberts, who is conservative, in the descent of the Texas Law.

The court used a “Shadow Docket” to hand down the decision, a procedure generally used in emergency cases to ensure consistency and remain clear and concise. In these extreme cases, it is necessary to make a decision quickly with precision. It is usually used in more minor cases and not quite as controversial as the Texas abortion law.

In 1791, the Founding Fathers penned the Bill of Rights. The 1st Amendment guarantees that no man, woman, or child shall be forced to subscribe to any specific religious beliefs, nor shall any such beliefs be enforced. Unfortunately, the Texas bill SB-8 is stepping on the Constitution’s First Amendment by telling women to abide by the Christian-based pro-life movement.

Elected officials are not supposed to mix religion and politics. However, when politicians add religious beliefs to their political agenda, the understanding of each is reduced.

The phrase, do not mix religion and politics, is too often interpreted as people leaving their religious opinions inside the church walls and not bringing them to the podium. However, it confuses the true meaning of “Separation of Church and State.” Citizens of the U.S. are free to express their faith, but politicians must tread lightly when discussing their faith and not impose it upon the people they represent.

Governor Abbot holds the same beliefs as the Catholic church does about abortion; thus, he has a pro-life position. However, by making abortion illegal six weeks after conception, the governor and the Texas legislature say the pro-life opinion is the only acceptable choice for all of the state’s women.

The U.S. Justice Department sued the state of Texas, claiming SB-8 was indeed unconstitutional, and on Wednesday, Oct. 6, 2021, a federal judge in Texas, Robert Pitman, temporarily blocked the law. His decision holds SB-8 violates the United States Constitution.

Texas immediately appealed to the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, and two days later, a conservative judge issued a temporary order allowing the controversial law to stand. Nonetheless, the case is still being argued. Once the appeals court hears all arguments they could change their ruling. Trampling on the Constitution like this sends mixed messages and confuses Texans.

In 1992, the U.S. Congress passed H.J.Res.457 to designate January 16th as National Religious Freedom Day. The act was signed by former President George H. W. Bush on Oct. 19, 1992. On this day it would be fitting to consider the true meaning of the First Amendment. The separation of church and state is too important to be overlooked as the Supreme Court Justices did in early September 2021.

Texas Republicans and Governor Abbot are responsible for effectively stepping all over the 1st Amendment of the Constitution, by turning ordinary citizens into bounty hunters. President Joe Biden’s Administration is working to overturn SB-8, but it may take at least six more months for the courts to hear all arguments.

Since Texas created SB-8, a growing fear that it could help overturn Roe vs. Wade. In 1973, SCOTUS heard the case and determined abortion is a woman’s constitutional right if the procedure is done, the fetus is viable. However, a fetus is not a baby until it can live outside the womb, which does not happen until the third trimester. Based on the U.S. Supreme Court’s response in September 2021, it appears states can outlaw abortion before fetal viability.

Written by Katherine Miller
Edited by Cathy Milne-Ware

Sources:

Time: The Real Meaning of the Separation of the Church and State
Yahoo! News: ‘Lawless behavior’: Legal experts say the Supreme Court acted out of ‘political motivations’ in upholding Texas’ abortion ban
Yahoo! News: Sotomayor warns of more legal ‘disappointments’ following decision on Texas abortion law
ABC News: Biden slams SCOTUS refusal to block Texas abortion law, vows to pursue legal remedies

Featured and Top Image Courtesy of Hillel Steinberg’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License
Inset Image Courtesy of Josh’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License

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