Abortion Access

Messing with freedom: Texas abortion ban provides a glimpse of creeping theocracy

  Rachel Laser

Editor’s note: This blog post by AU President and CEO Rachel Laser originally appeared in the January 2024 issue of AU’s Church & State magazine.

You’ve probably read about the situation involving Kate Cox in Texas. Cox went to court seeking an emergency abortion because her fetus had been diagnosed with a lethal genetic condition called Trisomy 18, and continuing her pregnancy entailed serious health risks.

Cox’s doctor told the court that it was her “good faith belief and medical recommendation” that Cox should be allowed to have an abortion, citing Cox’s “life-threatening physical condition aggravated by, caused by, or arising from her current pregnancy that places her at risk of death or poses a serious risk of substantial impairment of her reproductive functions.” The lower court granted Cox an exemption from the state’s draconian abortion ban, but the Texas Supreme Court reversed that ruling. Cox had to leave the state to get the procedure.

Prior to the Texas Supreme Court’s ruling, Attorney General Ken Paxton sent a letter to hospitals in the area announcing that he would charge any doctor who performed an abortion for Cox with a first-degree felony. In Texas, this type of felony can be punished by a term of five to 99 years in prison.

Draconian laws proposed

Cox got the abortion, but let’s not forget that lawmakers in some states have proposed arresting women who get abortions elsewhere, and in Texas, several communities have passed policies that make it a crime to use local roads to transport someone to get an abortion.

Here is where I need to take a deep breath. As a woman, mother and American, I am still solidly in the “anger” phase of the five phases of grief. I agree with what a friend told me: “As a parent, I’m only more in favor of abortion rights than I used to be, and I already was solidly there. I don’t want Ken Paxton telling my daughter where to park her car, let alone what she can do with her own body.”

As a Generation X woman who always knew that abortion was available if need be, I have fought my own emotional denial about the state of our country, even while intellectually I knew that abortion rights were imperiled. And as someone who grew up in a world where abortion was protected by the right to privacy and felt stable, I didn’t have to spend much time focusing on resistance to abortion, let alone on how that resistance was driven by a religious extremist agenda.

Abortion bans and church-state separation

Obviously, that changed when I took the helm at Americans United almost six years ago. Americans United has been warning about theocracy for years. Some people said we were overreacting. But look at what is happening in Texas (and elsewhere). What else do you call it when women can no longer get a necessary medical procedure that was legal everywhere as recently as two years ago because of someone else’s religious beliefs?

Abortion bans impose one narrow religious viewpoint on all of us. As Justice Sonia Sotomayor noted during the oral argument in the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization case that overturned Roe v. Wade: “How is your interest anything other than a religious view?” Does it surprise anyone that Paxton has urged Christians to “be bold” in standing up for “religious freedom”?

Americans United is determined to recommit this nation to true religious freedom, and the overreach of Christian Nationalists today is helping.

AU fights for reproductive rights in Missouri

Consider AU’s abortion-ban lawsuit in Missouri, where lawmakers boasted about the religious motivations for their abortion bans and even inserted religious language into the law. Our lawsuit on behalf of 14 clergy from seven different religious denominations is moving forward. It’s restoring hope to many Missourians who have long been looking for ways to be proactive in the face of widespread Christian Nationalism in that state. The lawsuit has energized Missourians, deepened relationships between the religious and abortion-rights communities and elevated the importance and relevance of church-state separation.

The threat of theocracy is no longer a threat — it’s real in places like Missouri and Texas. But just as real is the difference even a single voice can make. Kate Cox bravely went to court, and even though (outrageously) she didn’t win her case, she brought attention to the danger of abortion bans.

I know it’s not always clear-cut how to fight today’s creeping theocracy, and our members have different comfort levels with different types of advocacy. One of our key jobs is to keep you informed and give you options for actions you can take. Together, and with patience, we can build the power to let even Texas know: “Don’t mess with church-state separation.”

Photo: Abortion-rights advocates march in Austin, Texas. Photo by Sergio Flores/Getty Images.

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