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Will Texas Put a Woman To Death for Having an Abortion?

Reader, this is neither hyperbole, nor a page ripped from Margaret Atwood’s 1985 novel The Handmaid’s Tale, nor the TV series it has inspired, but a sober question. Lizelle Herrera, 26, sits in jail in Starr County, Texas, tonight, held on $500,000 bail for murder in “the death of an individual by self-induced abortion.” Apparently it is not clear whether Herrera herself had an abortion or merely helped someone else have one, and under the venerable fascist principle of Nacht und Nebel, the Sherriff’s Office is not releasing any more information on the case, except her mug shot. But Texas is infamous for its enthusiasm for the death penalty, so are we to understand that this luckless woman will soon find herself on Death Row?

Perhaps this case will end up being the one the Trump Supreme Court takes up to strike down Roe v. Wade, in which event Justices HandmaidBeer, Nonesuch, Lockjaw and Angry White Man Sam will soon enjoy the priceless opportunity to demonstrate their reverence for “life” by sentencing a young woman to be injected with poison. They could even do it on the “shadow docket,” closing the circle on the Nacht und Nebel principle and terrifying anyone who might dare consider having or helping someone have an abortion by refusing to explain their reasoning. Oh, no doubt Chief Justice John Roberts will find this move an embarrassment to his “apolitical” form of Fascism-with-a-Human-Face and join the court’s “liberals” in opposition, but that’s the beauty of the Trump Supreme Court’s fireproof “conservative majority.”

These developments are very curious considering that we just got through hearing what a brilliant thing the state of Texas had done by making abortion after six weeks of pregnancy a cause for civil action in which any idle asshole anywhere, not only in Texas, could sue those accused of helping procure an abortion. (If the plaintiffs lose, the court may not impose any penalty on them, which seems like a blatant violation of the principle of equal justice under law, and the “any idle asshole” clause a violation of the principle of legal standing, but what do I know? Apparently you have to be a beer-loving soccer dad who definitely never sexually assaulted anybody to understand.) Since this abortion restriction is a civil violation, and no state officials are involved in enforcement, the argument went, the Supreme Court couldn’t get involved, and that has apparently been the logic the five-justice super-fascist, super-majority has already used, twice, in refusing to stay the Texas law. Are we now to understand that this whole Rube Goldberg setup was only temporary window dressing, and the Texas Taliban’s head hackers are already sharpening their swords?

The questions multiply. If abortion is murder, does writing and/or publishing a handbook on how to conduct do-it-yourself abortions at home constitute solicitation to murder, or conspiracy to murder? Does advocating for abortion rights fall under this rubric? If so, the Trump Supreme Court is going to have to authorize some pretty drastic restrictions on the First Amendment, even before the Very Stable Genius or DeSantis or whoever takes power and starts “revising the libel laws” to make criticism of his magnificent self a form of lèsemajesté that carries severe penalties. “Protecting unborn life” thus reveals itself as a wonderful lever, or cudgel, for imposing totalitarian controls on the United States, even while the governing elite continues sending its daughters and mistresses to well-paid private doctors who know just how to “get rid of it” without attracting attention.

As I have said before in discussing the issue of an abortion, this is one area where it has long seemed to me that the “mushy middle’s” uneasy muddle of feelings deserves a lot of sympathy. There is no clear and easy way of drawing a bright line on “when life begins,” any more than one can draw such sharp demarcations on when it ends. Most people would probably agree that a nine-month-old fetus is fully human and a cluster of cells from a fertilized egg really isn’t, but beyond that it becomes impossible to reach consensus. These questions are complicated for good reasons: people’s sincerely held beliefs are in conflict with each other and even with themselves, and a humane society would be obligated to reach difficult compromises that might shift over time as science and mores continue to evolve. That we do not live in such a society is sadly too obvious to be worth arguing, but it remains to be seen whether the “mushy middle” is going to let a minority band of zealots dictate the laws of life and death.

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