Skip to main content


The bitter new fight over abortion

A pro-choice protestor outside the Supreme Court in Washington. Drew Angerer/Getty Images

There’s a chilling image circulating on social media, says the Houston Chronicle in an editorial: “a Texas-shaped coat hanger”. The grim connotation won’t be lost on anyone who lived through a time when women didn’t have access to safe, legal abortions, so were forced to seek alternatives such as pills, back alleys, Mexican border towns and “DIY devices”. It’s a world many Texan women are fortunate never to have known.

Until now. Now lawmakers in Texas have banned abortions after a heartbeat is detected, typically at six weeks, when an embryo is “about the size of a lentil” and many women don’t even know they’re pregnant. “There are no exceptions in the law for victims of rape or incest.” It’s unbelievable that in the state of Texas, “land of personal freedom”, a woman can be forced to carry the offspring of a man who sexually assaulted her. Such cases might be rare, “but even one is an unconscionably cruel mandate”.

No matter how you feel about abortion, this is hardly a “radical law”, says Tucker Carlson on Fox News. “Intentionally stopping a person’s heart from beating is the definition of killing.” It might have driven the media crazy, but really this proves that democracy still exists in America. “Why should Texas have to be exactly like California?” Voters can decide what they want for their communities – it’s called self-government. We might not like this specific law, but being able to pass it protects the principle of civil rights for the rest of us, which “might be a good thing”.

It’s true that “millions of Americans will cheer”, says Justin Webb in The Times. All those Christians who held their noses and voted for Trump in 2016 are getting what they were promised. But this decision drives a vast wedge between anti-abortionists and the “great majority of Americans”, who still believe abortion should be safe, legal and available. President Biden has made his position clear, condemning the new law as an “assault on women’s constitutional rights”. If necessary, Washington could overrule Texas. But what would that do to the fraught relationship between the rural heartlands and the “feckless godless citizens of the big cities”? A fight about abortion is a fight about what America is and where the balance of power should lie. Once, prompted by slavery, America had a civil war over these issues. Now, prompted by abortion, it “may be shaping up for another”.