Former Texas GOP Lawmaker Warns Six-Week Abortion Ban Could Backfire

Texas six week abortion ban

Former state Rep. Sarah Davis says Republican women are “in shock” over the new six-weeks ban.

The Supreme Court’s decision to uphold the six-weeks abortion law was presented as a major conservative triumph. But was it a victory they were actually hoping for? Former GOP Texas state Rep. Sarah Davis doesn’t think so.

“I think that there is an opportunity for this to backfire,” Davis tells us, pointing to the 2018 midterm election in the state when Republicans lost more than a dozen seats.

She says that Republican women are “in shock” over the stringent new law that marks the nation’s biggest curb to abortion since the Supreme Court affirmed that women have a constitutional right to an abortion in the 1973 decision, Roe v. Wade. The Texas law is receiving backlash over how it deputizes ordinary citizens to sue those involved in performing abortions and allows them to collect as much as $10,000 if they are successful. 

“Republican women do not like this concept of these vigilante bounty hunters going after and suing anyone that is assisting a woman in receiving abortion care, even if they are pro-life and don’t believe that women have that constitutional right,” she says. 

Davis, who has long voiced support for abortion rights, insists that most Republicans didn’t expect the Supreme Court’s most conservative members to uphold the law in a 5-4 decision. For decades, Republican state legislators have passed increasingly restrictive abortion laws without seeing how those actions played out at the ballot box because those laws have been typically struck down by the courts. 

 “I do think that Republicans probably counted on the Supreme Court to intervene because the Supreme Court has historically intervened every time the state has tried to pass unconstitutional, abortion restrictions,” she says. 

As the political ramifications of the ban remain unclear, Davis points out that Republicans have been uncharacteristically quiet since the highest court in the land allowed the law to stand. “It seems to me that a lot of Republicans elected have been kind of quiet on this bill now that they’re feeling the effects and those effects are not positive,” she says.

It’s true: most of the congressional delegation in Texas has been mum on both the new abortion legislation and President Biden’s move to challenge it. Out of a total of 25 officials, just four responded, and only one referred to the case. Gov. Greg Abbott, one of the abortion law’s fiercest advocates, has also avoided any celebratory tweets, as he faces a drop in overall support among voters. A whopping 54 percent of Texans surveyed think the state is on the wrong track, compared to 45 percent who approve of the governor’s job performance, according to a new poll from The Dallas Morning News and University of Texas at Tyler.

Still, Davis doesn’t expect the GOP lawmakers to change course on its conservative agenda anytime soon, especially when it comes to abortion and the former lawmaker understands this all too well. Before losing her seat to Democrat Ann Johnson last year, Davis made name for herself in politics as the lone pro-choice Republican in the Texas legislature, where she represented Houston’s 134th district from 2011 to 2021. For years, she made waves within her party for voting against abortion measures and earning the backing of Planned Parenthood Texas Votes, which is the group’s political arm in the state.

But she never saw her actions as particularly controversial — after all, it was her battle with breast cancer that first inspired her to run for office, and becoming an advocate for women’s health just felt like a natural next step. But she admits that she’s always found a disconnect between traditional Republican values and the party’s stance on abortion. 

“I didn’t honestly understand how big of an issue this was to Republicans until after I was elected and I really have never been able to reconcile how or why this is just such a priority because in so many cases, our political philosophy is personal freedom,” she says. “Individual responsibility and limited government and these types of restrictions, seem to me, fly in the face of our most basic conservative philosophy.” 

Davis’s comments come amid shifting opinions around abortion in the U.S. as a whole: a recent NBC poll found that 54 percent of Americans believe abortions should be legal all or most of the time. The issue is also showing signs of being a motivating issue for Democrats, who hope to maintain control of the House and Senate in 2022. The share of Democratic women who say that abortion-related issues are at the top of their voting concerns has risen from 8 percent to 14 percent since the Texas law went into effect, according to a recent Morning Consult poll.

Despite this shift in public opinion, Davis worries that Texas’s move could embolden other states to follow suit. “Since Texas has been successful, I certainly expect additional states, Republican-controlled states, to pass this type of legislation,” she says. But her concern is well-placed: at least seven other states, including Florida and Arkansas, are already looking into implementing a version of the Texas six-week abortion ban. 

At the same time, she doesn’t expect the fight over the law to be finished anytime soon: the Supreme Court’s decision on the Texas abortion law left the door open for abortion providers to challenge the law, meaning the case could be back in front of the high court in a matter of months or longer. In fact, the Justice Department has already sued the state of Texas over the law, arguing that it’s unconstitutional and Davis agrees. While the future of the law remains uncertain, she believes it can and should be challenged.

“Most women don’t even know that they’re pregnant at six weeks, so I think there’s an avenue to challenge the six-week ban,” she says. “Creating this private cause of action is something that’s really sneaky and I don’t know how the court is going to handle that, but that’s extremely problematic.”