Texas S.B. 8 and the Future of Reproductive Rights

In a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court declined to review a new Texas law (S.B. 8) restricting abortion access in the state after six weeks of pregnancy. Under the provisions of the law, women in Texas are legally prohibited from receiving an abortion, doctors are prohibited from performing an abortion, and third parties (such as friends, family, and volunteers) are prohibited from assisting anyone who intends to have or has had an abortion after six weeks of pregnancy.1

The law makes exceptions for “medical emergencies” but not for rape, incest, nonviable pregnancies, or fetuses with fatal or untreatable conditions. Doctors who perform abortions and persons who assist abortion patients can be sued by any citizen for $10,000 in civil court, with the person bringing the suit not liable for any legal fees if they win the case. At the same time, even if a defendant against such charges is successful in court, they are on the hook to pay their own legal fees.2

Many pro-life groups have cheered the new law, while pro-choice activists have called it a violation of women’s constitutional rights as established by Roe v. Wade (1973).3

Unpacking Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey

Prior to 1973, some states allowed abortion while others restricted or outlawed it. A Supreme Court case, Roe v. Wade, changed all of that and resulted in the legalization of abortion across the United States. The Court’s 7-2 ruling cited a right to privacy in the 14th Amendment that extended to a woman’s right to make decisions about her own body. However, the Court found that the right to an abortion is not absolute, and that it must be balanced against the government’s interests in protecting women’s health and prenatal life.4

In Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court ruled that no restriction (other than requiring that the procedure be performed by a licensed doctor and take place in medically safe conditions) could be placed on abortion access in the first trimester of pregnancy (up to 12 weeks). In the second trimester (up to 24 weeks), a state could apply restrictions related to a woman’s health. In the last trimester (25 weeks and beyond), a state could outlaw abortion unless it was necessary to save the health or life of a mother.5

The Supreme Court revisited the Roe v. Wade decision in Planned Parenthood v. Casey (1992). The 5-4 decision in Casey reaffirmed abortion rights but allowed for states to impose greater restrictions on abortion as long as the procedure was still ultimately accessible. The Court also changed the standard for banning abortion to fetal viability, or the point at which a fetus can survive outside the womb.6

LEARN MORE about Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey

(Source: University of Texas/Texas Tribune)

What’s Different About S.B. 8?

The Supreme Court’s prior decisions on abortion were all tied to restrictions imposed by governments. S.B. 8 makes it a crime to receive, deliver, or aid an abortion after six weeks of pregnancy. Penalties for violating the law are normally enforced by police and by officers of the state, which would make the new law unconstitutional on its face. Instead, by allowing individuals outside of government to sue violators for $10,000, it leaves the responsibility for enforcing the law in the hands of citizens.

Supporters of the law argue that it is not denying women access to abortion. It is simply showing that the people of Texas want more restrictions on the procedure than the federal government allows. Supporters argue that the law does not violate the Constitution and it represents the will of the people of Texas. (Prior to the law’s enactment, a University of Texas/Texas Tribune poll showed that 37 percent of respondents wanted to expand abortion rights, 18 percent wanted to keep the status quo, and 32 percent wanted greater restrictions on abortion.7)

Opponents of the law argue that the six-week limit functionally outlaws abortion, which is in clear defiance of the Constitution. They point to the fact that women cannot confirm they are pregnant until at least four weeks into pregnancy, giving them at most two weeks to schedule and receive an abortion in a state with a female population of 13.8 million and 22 facilities allowed to perform abortions.8 Opponents also point to what they view as an unprecedented and dangerous provision which empowers citizens to enforce the law and to profit financially from doing so at little cost to themselves.

LEARN MORE about Elected Officials’ Views on Reproductive Rights

Both before and since the Supreme Court’s decision on S.B. 8, other states have passed restrictions on abortion access, including new laws which were directly inspired by S.B. 8. Texas also recently passed S.B. 4, which limits access to abortion-inducing drugs after seven weeks of pregnancy with criminal penalties that include felony charges, fines, and jail sentences.9

The Supreme Court will hear a case involving Mississippi’s new abortion law on December 1, 2021. That law would ban abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy and be enforced by the state, a direct challenge to Roe v. Wade that could possibly lead to the Court to overturn that ruling.10 If Roe were to be overturned, it could allow states to decide on their own abortion restrictions, including the possibility of banning the procedure.

Discussion Questions

  1. Studies indicate that a plurality of Americans (46 percent) believe that abortion should be legal in all or most circumstances. A clear majority of Americans (80 percent) believe it should be legal in at least some circumstances. Alternatively, 19 percent of Americans think abortion should be illegal in virtually all circumstances. Given the general support for legal abortion in the United States, why do you think it remains such a controversial issue?
  2. Do you believe abortion should be legal in the United States? Do you feel there should or should not be restrictions on access to abortion? Why?
  3. Do you think limits on abortion should be set by state governments or by the federal government? Explain your answer.
  4. Texas S.B. 8 empowers citizens to enforce the law by suing abortion providers or anyone who assists a woman in getting an abortion for no less than $10,000. If successful, the plaintiff (the person suing) is paid the money directly and has their legal fees paid for. If unsuccessful, they need only pay their legal fees. No matter the outcome, the defendant (the person being sued) has to pay their own legal fees. Regardless of your views on abortion, do you agree with this system? Do you think this system is fair and reasonable? Why or why not?

Related Posts

As always, we encourage you to join the discussion with your comments or questions below!

 

Sources

Featured Image Credit: Sergio Flores/Getty Images
[1] https://www.nytimes.com/article/abortion-law-texas.html
[2] Ibid.
[3] https://www.nytimes.com/2021/09/01/health/texas-abortion-law-facts.html
[4] https://supreme.findlaw.com/supreme-court-insights/roe-v–wade-case-summary–what-you-need-to-know.html#plannedparenthood
[5] Ibid.
[6] https://www.thirteen.org/wnet/supremecourt/rights/landmark_casey.html
[7] https://www.texastribune.org/2021/03/02/texas-gambling-abortion-marijuana-confederate/
[8] https://gov.texas.gov/uploads/files/organization/twic/Demographics_Update_2016.pdf
[9] https://thehill.com/homenews/state-watch/573150-texas-governor-signs-more-abortion-restrictions-into-law
[10] https://news.gallup.com/poll/1576/abortion.aspx

 

Deliberating About Pressing Issues

Classroom discussion of current issues is one of the most powerful tools available to help young people develop the skills and knowledge required for democratic citizenship.1 There are many forms that such discussion can take, including short reactions to news articles, debates, and semester-long legislative simulations. While all of these forms have their place, one of the best things that schools can do, for multiple reasons, is to incorporate more deliberation.

What is Deliberation?

Deliberation is a specific form of discourse. In deliberation, participants explore a range of options, approaches, and priorities to determine the best resolution to a challenging political or social problem. In effect, deliberation is about answering the question, “What should we do?”2 In a deliberation, students approach an issue with a broad range of options and attempt to reach consensus.

Discourse Type Rationale Sample Questions
Discussion: Open-ended conversation about a topic  

A discussion is a good way to introduce new ideas, brainstorm about an issue, and assess what information students already know before engaging in a debate or deliberation.

Students will be open to new ideas and make connections to other knowledge, to current events, and to their personal lives.

 

Where do you get your ideas and information about immigration?

What are the benefits and drawbacks of immigration?

What can we learn from history to help make decisions about immigration policy today?

Debate: Revolves around a central question with two or more predetermined options A debate helps students better understand an issue, prioritize and evaluate various arguments, and practice public persuasive speaking.

Students will defend their positions with thoughtful and persuasive arguments. 

 

Should the United States provide a pathway to citizenship for young undocumented immigrants?

Should the United States prioritize highly skilled immigrants?

Should the United States expand access to legal immigration, restrict access, or keep the current levels?

 

Deliberation: Participants exchange perspectives and ideas to reach consensus on an issue and identify solutions Once students have a thorough understanding of an issue, a deliberation asks them to listen to each other, build consensus, and compromise to create a nuanced, complex proposal (or solution).

Students will consider many different positions, seek compromise with their peers, and ultimately attempt to reach consensus.

 

What should be the highest priority of immigration reform efforts?

What should the United States do about the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants currently in the country?

What actions, if any, should governments take to reform immigration?

 

Why Deliberation?

Deliberation presses students to seriously weigh the values and ideas of other participants. Deliberation has the potential to build empathy for other experiences and perspectives and to develop patience and openness with those with whom you might otherwise disagree.3 Because of the threat to our democracy posed by hyperpartisanship and polarization, building this empathy and openness is an important task for civic education.4

READ: “Anger, Fear, and Polarization” on the Current Issues Blog

Incorporating Deliberation

There are many ways to incorporate deliberation in the classroom.5 One approach, the structured academic controversy, calls on students to understand and defend multiple perspectives on the same issue. See an example from PBS NewsHour Extra here.

Another common example, the Socratic seminar, involves students taking ownership of the discussion and engaging with multiple sources to build expertise. While a structured academic controversy can be done fairly quickly, a Socratic seminar requires significant time to implement. See resources from Edutopia and Facing History & Ourselves for more guidance and examples of the Socratic seminar.

There are many other approaches to deliberation that range in time commitment between the structured academic controversy and the Socratic seminar. Fishbowl discussions and co-pilot discussions are also great approaches to help students explore multiple perspectives.

For a deeper dive into classroom deliberation, please join us for Close Up Conversations with Dr. Paula McAvoy, associate professor of social studies education at North Carolina State University. Dr. McAvoy will share insights from her recent research on how deliberation and consensus-building can help students feel respected when learning about controversial issues and engaging in structured political discussion. Click here to register for the webinar, which will take place on September 29 at 6:00 PM ET.

As always, we encourage you to join the discussion with your comments or questions below!

 

Sources

Featured Image Credit: Gustavus Adolphus College

[1] Diana Hess and Paula McAvoy: The Political Classroom: Evidence and Ethics in Democratic Education

[2] Peter Levine: https://peterlevine.ws/?p=13846

[3] Michael Morrell: Empathy and Democracy: Feeling, Thinking and Deliberation; Diana Mutz: Hearing the Other Side: Deliberative versus Participatory Democracy

[4] Teaching Channel: https://www.teachingchannel.com/blog/debate-deliberate; Newsweek: https://www.newsweek.com/hyperpartisanship-ruining-america-opinion-1629005

[5] Teaching Channel: https://learn.teachingchannel.com/video/student-centered-civic-discussion-deliberation

 

Teaching the 26th Amendment

One of the most important things that schools can do to promote civic and political engagement is to explicitly teach about elections and voting.1 While this can include teaching about current elections and ballot initiatives or processes such as voter registration, it should also include lessons on the struggle for voting rights by different groups throughout history. One such struggle, the struggle to lower the voting age to 18, culminated in a Constitutional amendment in 1971. This year marks the 50th anniversary of the 26th Amendment.2

See our earlier post: 50th anniversary of 26th Amendment post

Here are some resources and ideas to help teachers and students explore the 26th Amendment and discuss the importance of voting:

WATCH this Close Up Conversations webinar in which two people who helped push for the passage of the amendment and one voting rights attorney discuss the significance of the amendment today. After watching the webinar, lead a discussion with students about such questions as:

  • What is the significance of the 26th Amendment today?
  • What strategies and tactics did activists and political leaders use to build support for the passage of the amendment?
  • The speakers are all concerned about challenges to voting rights today. Do you share those concerns? Why or why not?

TEACH our Youth Voting lesson plan. Students will deliberate about the question, “Should the voting age be lowered to 16?”

READ our new Youth Voting resources for middle and high school.

In addition to teaching the 26th Amendment, if you are looking for lessons and activities to celebrate Constitution Day with your students, we have a two lesson plans: 1) Examining the Preamble to teach the Preamble to the Constitution, and 2) Understanding the Constitution as Aspirational that explores the use of constitutional values by activists and political leaders throughout history.

As always, we encourage you to join the discussion with your comments or questions below!

 

Sources

Featured Image Credit: Smithsonian National Museum of American History
[1] Teaching for Democracy Alliance: http://www.teachingfordemocracy.org/research-and-data-on-teaching-about-elections-and-voting.html
[2] WhiteHouse.gov: https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/presidential-actions/2021/06/30/a-proclamation-on-the-50th-anniversary-of-the-26th-amendment/

 

Vaccine Mandates: The Way Out of the Pandemic or Presidential Overreach?

No Vaccine MandateLast Thursday, President Biden issued an executive order requiring that all federal employees and employees of federal contractors are required to be vaccinated against the COVID-19 virus. Additionally, employees working for a company with more than 100 workers must be vaccinated or submit to weekly testing. Finally, those working for businesses that receive Medicare or Medicaid funds must be vaccinated.1 In total this mandate is expected to affect more than 100 million people.2

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, has said that the combination of the large number of unvaccinated people and the extremely infectious Delta variant has made it difficult to stop the spread of the virus in the United States.3 The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has reported that 63% of those eligible for the vaccine have been fully inoculated, but hope that vast majority of Americans will receive the vaccine in order to end the pandemic.4

While the vaccine mandate has been welcomed by many Democrats as a way to curb the spread of the virus, Republicans have mainly voiced opposition. Public opinion generally supports the vaccine mandates, but there is a huge gap among partisan lines.5

White House Vaccinations

Opponents to the vaccine mandate generally present the vaccine as an effective way to protect people from COVID, but see it as an overreach of executive power, a violation of individual liberties, and a way to divide the nation between vaccinated and unvaccinated populations.6 Supporters of the mandate have expressed that many vaccines are already mandated at the state level for participation in education or working in the field of health care. They also claim that the mandate is constitutional as it is limited in scope to areas that affect the federal government or to ensure workplace safety.7

Discussion Questions

  1. How, if at all, might the vaccine mandate affect you or your community?
  2. The mandate will likely be challenged in court. What do you predict the outcome might be?
  3. If you were a policy-maker, would you support or oppose this mandate? Explain your reasoning.
  4. Excluding mandates, what are other measures you believe should be taken to address the pandemic?

As always, we encourage you to join the discussion with your comments or questions below!

 

Sources

Featured Image Credit: Stephen Zenner/Reuters
[1] White House. https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/presidential-actions/2021/09/09/executive-order-on-requiring-coronavirus-disease-2019-vaccination-for-federal-employees/
[2] Reuters. https://www.reuters.com/legal/government/how-will-bidens-vaccine-mandate-impact-workers-companies-2021-09-13/
[3] CNN. https://www.cnn.com/2021/09/13/health/us-coronavirus-monday/index.html
[4] Ibid.
[5] Morning Consultant. https://morningconsult.com/2021/09/13/white-house-covid-vaccination-mandates-poll/
[6] Washington Post. https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2021/09/13/bidens-coronavirus-mandate-isnt-divisive-its-opponents-claim/
[7] New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2021/09/12/us/politics/vaccine-mandates-republicans.html

 

The United States’ Exit from Afghanistan

After 20 years of U.S. troops maintaining a presence in Afghanistan, the United States began the process of ending its longest war by removing military forces from the region. Ever since he was vice president, President Joe Biden has been a strong advocate for reducing the scope of the military mission in Afghanistan in order to focus more on global counterterrorism efforts.1 In April 2021, he announced that he would fulfill his campaign promise to end what he calls the “forever war,” which began as a result of the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001.2

On August 31, 2021, the last U.S. troops departed Afghanistan and President Biden declared the war in the region finished. “My fellow Americans, the war in Afghanistan is now over,” he said in an address to the nation. “It was time to be honest with the American people again. We no longer had a clear purpose in an open-ended mission in Afghanistan. After 20 years of war in Afghanistan, I refused to send another generation of America’s sons and daughters to fight a war that should have ended long ago.”3

According to Brown University’s The Cost of War Project, at least 801,000 people have died as a direct result of war violence in the post-9/11 conflicts in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan, with approximately 157,000 of those casualties attributed to Afghanistan.4 This number includes armed forces on all sides of the conflicts, contractors, civilians, journalists, and humanitarian workers.5 The monetary cost of the War on Terror comes to roughly $6.4 trillion, not including the economic effects of job losses and increased interest rates in the United States.6, 7

The heavy costs of this war have encouraged political leaders on both sides of the aisle to discuss an exit from Afghanistan for several years, but it was President Biden who ultimately decided to make the move. Since the exit began, the Biden administration has been under fire for its handling of the withdrawal, with many critics arguing that the exit was chaotic, poorly planned, and poorly executed, and that it wrongly left behind unknown numbers of Afghans who had risked their lives to support U.S. military efforts over the last 20 years. Supporters of the exit point to years of bad decisions that led to a no-win situation, arguing that President Biden should be praised for making a decision his predecessors talked about but never followed through on.

Over the course of the 18-day exit, more than 120,000 Americans and Afghan partners evacuated the country, but not without loss.8 At least 180 Afghans and 13 U.S. troops lost their lives—the majority in a suicide bombing that took place on August 26 as troops guarded the Kabul airport, attempting to evacuate remaining U.S. citizens and Afghans from the warzone.9

The withdrawal left behind between 100 and 200 people, which has brought harsh criticism of President Biden’s evacuation strategy. When asked about the individuals remaining in Afghanistan, General Frank McKenzie, head of U.S. Central Command, stated, “The military phase is over, but our desire to bring these people out remains as intense as it was before. The weapons have just shifted, if you will, from the military realm to the diplomatic realm, and the Department of State will now take the lead on it.”10

Other critics of the exit strategy believe that the United States should have kept a small number of troops in the region as a stabilizing, strategic force rather than completely withdraw. To this, President Biden said, “When I hear that we could’ve, should’ve continued the so-called low-grade effort in Afghanistan at low risk to our service members, at low cost, I don’t think enough people understand how much we’ve asked of the 1% of this country who put that uniform on.”11

Citing his years of foreign policy experience directly related to this war, President Biden called the withdrawal a success and said, despite claims to the contrary, it had the full support of all of his political and military advisors.12 Some members of Congress urged President Biden to push back the August 31 withdrawal deadline, but he refused, saying, “I was not going to extend a forever war, and I was not going to extend a forever exit.”13 He also stated that, “We will maintain the fight against terrorism in Afghanistan and other countries. We just don’t need to fight a ground war to do it.”14

In his speech, President Biden reiterated his purpose for the withdrawal. “The fundamental obligation of a president, in my opinion, is to defend and protect America—not against threats of 2001, but against the threats of 2021 and tomorrow,” he said. “That is the guiding principle behind my decisions about Afghanistan. I simply do not believe that the safety and security of America is enhanced by continuing to deploy thousands of American troops and spending billions of dollars a year in Afghanistan.”15

Discussion Questions

  1. What are your thoughts on how the Biden administration carried out the exit from Afghanistan? Explain.
  2. Do you think the United States should have completely left Afghanistan or kept a small force there? Explain.
  3. What responsibility, if any, does the United States have to ensure the safety of Afghan citizens now that the war is over? Explain.
  4. How does this controversy connect to other issues you have heard about in the news? In history?
  5. Do you think the Biden administration made the right choice by ending the war in Afghanistan? Why or why not?

Other Resources 

  • For more information, see Encyclopedia Britannica’s article on the Afghanistan War.

As always, we encourage you to join the discussion with your comments or questions below!

 

Sources

Featured Image Credit: The Atlantic/Staff Sgt. Victor Mancilla / U.S. Marine Corps / AP
[1] The Daily Beast: https://www.thedailybeast.com/joe-biden-finally-ended-americas-abominable-forever-wars
[2] NPR: https://www.npr.org/2021/09/03/1034137444/biden-says-hes-ended-the-forever-wars-but-some-say-theyve-just-shrunk
[3] The White House: https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/speeches-remarks/2021/08/31/remarks-by-president-biden-on-the-end-of-the-war-in-afghanistan/
[4] Brown University: https://watson.brown.edu/costsofwar/figures/2019/direct-war-death-toll-2001-801000
[5] Brown University: https://watson.brown.edu/costsofwar/papers/summary
[6] Ibid.
[7] Brown University: https://watson.brown.edu/costsofwar/figures/2019/budgetary-costs-post-911-wars-through-fy2020-64-trillion
[8] Associated Press: https://apnews.com/article/afghanistan-islamic-state-group-dd43bcc58bd17668b1cf4ae79997142b
[9] Associated Press: https://apnews.com/article/afghanistan-islamic-state-group-e10e038baea732dae879c11234507f81
[10] Department of Defense: https://www.defense.gov/Newsroom/Transcripts/Transcript/Article/2759183/pentagon-press-secretary-john-f-kirby-and-general-kenneth-f-mckenzie-jr-hold-a/
[11] Associated Press: https://apnews.com/article/afghanistan-islamic-state-group-dd43bcc58bd17668b1cf4ae79997142b
[12] Ibid.
[13] NBC News: https://www.nbcnews.com/politics/white-house/biden-address-end-afghan-war-amid-criticism-over-chaotic-u-n1278142
[14] NPR: https://www.npr.org/2021/09/03/1034137444/biden-says-hes-ended-the-forever-wars-but-some-say-theyve-just-shrunk
[15] The White House: https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/speeches-remarks/2021/08/31/remarks-by-president-biden-on-the-end-of-the-war-in-afghanistan/