Texas Republicans seek to break the internet to deny women abortions

There’s more than one way to burn a book, wrote Ray Bradbury, and the world is full of people running with lit matches. Texas House Representative Steve Toth brandished the equivalent of a butane torch earlier this session as he introduced House Bill 2690, legislation that seeks to ban websites that contain information about abortion, but he and Republicans from Texas may find it harder than they think making speeches I don’t like to disappear from the internet.

Toth’s bill would make it illegal to create, modify, upload, publish, host, maintain, or register a domain name for an Internet website, platform, or other interactive computer service that assists or facilitates a person’s effort to getting an abortion-inducing drug. Internet service providers themselves would be in the awkward position of enforcing the law by making every reasonable and technologically feasible effort to block sites with abortion information, abortion providers, or abortion funds while keeping Texans in the dark about their health care options, essentially.

The legislation specifically names several websites: Aid Access, Plan C, Hey Jane and CaraFem, among them. The only way to get such sites off the Texas Internet is for individual ISPs to agree to block them within state lines. To achieve that goal, the bill also provides incentives for private citizens to sue Internet service providers who fail to block sites. (Rolling stone contacted a number of Internet service providers operating in Texas, including AT&T, EarthLink, Charter Communications/Spectrum, T-Mobile, Windstream, Viasat and HughesNet. No one answered questions about the legislation and whether they will oppose it.)

Even if Internet service providers choose to comply, it would be logistically difficult to keep people from accessing the information they are determined to find, says Kiki Freedman, founder of Hey Jane. We think the technical feasibility of the bill is kind of ridiculous, says Freedman, who was an Uber executive before starting the company, which ships abortion drugs to a number of states. There are tools known as VPNs, for example, that allow Internet users to mask their IP address and location in order to access content that may not be available in their areas.

In addition to being a logistical challenge, the bill is a total train wreck under the First Amendment, says Brian Hauss, staff attorney with the ACLU Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project Rolling stone. The whole point of the First Amendment is to prevent the government from censoring ideas or information because it disagrees with the opinion expressed and that is exactly what this law is trying to do.

Hauss pointed to a landmark Supreme Court case, Bigelow versus Virginia, with parallels to the Texas bill. Before Roe versus Wade, abortion was illegal in Virginia, as was encouraging abortion through, for example, advertising about services in states where the procedure was legal. In 1971, Jeffrey Bigelow, director of Charlottesvilles Virginia Weekly, was arrested for running a display ad for an abortion counseling service in New York City. The case eventually made its way to the Supreme Court, where a majority of justices found the announcement qualified as protected speech.

What the Supreme Court has essentially said is: Virginia cannot prevent its residents from traveling to New York to obtain services that are legal in New York. The notion that a state may intentionally keep its residents in the dark about the availability of legal services in other states was decisively rejected by the Supreme Court in that decision, Hauss said.

Jennifer Pinsof, a personnel attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, says the private enforcement mechanism proposed in the bill is a tactic she hasn’t seen before. There have been other efforts to create accountability for posting abortion-related information online, but the aspect of ISP blocking is new, and I haven’t seen any other bills that pressure ISPs to block access to certain websites, Pinsof wrote in an email. The result will be a chilling effect on speech and a looming threat of litigation that can be used to silence those who seek to provide women with truthful information about their reproductive options.

Like Texas Senate Bill 8 abortion law passed in 2021, House Bill 2690 would be enforced by private citizens, rather than by the government in an effort to stymie a legal challenge to the law. (Opponents typically sue the law enforcement agency to stop enforcing it, but that is difficult if the law is meant to be enforced by citizens instead.) . But whether those laws will be left in place remains a matter of debate: At least one state court judge has declared the private enforcement regime unconstitutional.

To me, the most disturbing part is how extreme these lawmakers are willing to go in terms of stripping away other basic rights in order to attack access to health care, Freedman says. The goalposts are clearly moving into a space that is even more disconnected from the opinion of health experts, but also from the will of their constituents. A majority of Texans oppose the abortion ban, according to research conducted by the University of Texas, with a scant 15 percent of Texans supporting a blanket ban on access to abortion.

Toth dubbed her bill The Women and Child Safety Act. Not only is pregnancy far more dangerous than an abortion, one study found that women are 14 times more likely to die in childbirth than an abortion, but it is It has also been shown that unwanted pregnancies create unsafe conditions for the baby. Numerous studies have found that children born to unwanted pregnancies are more likely to experience and witness domestic violence, and a 10-year study found that, for years after giving birth, women who tried and failed to stop their pregnancies struggled to cover basic living expenses such as food, shelter and transportation, compared to similar women who were unable to obtain an abortion.

Melissa Grant, COO of Carafem, called her organization’s inclusion in Toth’s proposed bill not particularly surprising, despite the fact that Carafem does not provide services in Texas. House Bill 2690, she says, is about continuing to push the boundaries of what is legal, narrowly, to try to shut down people’s willingness to receive legal services.


It’s hard to believe that anyone would have the time or effort to spend researching things that seem so antithetical [the principles] this country was founded. But if the ultimate impact is trying to distract abortion providers so they’re fighting laws instead of serving patients, well, I guess to some extent they’re winning, she says. But our goal is to try to keep our eyes on the horizon and move forward to help the people who need us.

Right now, he says, he’s focusing on what he can do in Texas. What can I do [in Texas] is to continue to provide accurate information about what abortion is and is not, where it is illegal in this country to access it, and reliable evidence-based information about how abortion care works, and to combat the disinformation that is unleashed.

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