Texas’ flagrantly unconstitutional 6-week abortion ban has been in effect for all but two days since September 1. In the face of such restrictions on bodily autonomy, one Planned Parenthood affiliate is giving out free packages called “empowerment kits” containing condoms, one dose of emergency contraception, two pregnancy tests, and information about the law, per a story in Time. Planned Parenthood of Greater Texas, which operates 24 health centers in the state, plans to give out 22,000 kits by the end of the year. (Planned Parenthood of South Texas, which has health centers in San Antonio and the Rio Grande Valley, is offering free emergency contraception to patients. The affiliate gave out more than 500 EC packs last month alone.)
This is an extremely noble and worthwhile effort to prevent unintended pregnancies under an authoritarian law, but these “empowerment kits” would be better understood as harm-reduction packages or survival kits for people capable of pregnancy. As far as knowledge is power, yes, these kits are empowering. But Texas lawmakers have nullified people’s ultimate power to decide their reproductive futures unless they make a costly, logistically difficult or even dangerous trip out of state, or take the legal risk of ordering their own abortion pills.
Every single person who could become pregnant across the US should be able to get these items for free and have them around for when they’re needed. The same is true of abortion pills, and one humanitarian site is now making them available in advance, but not free. We don’t have universal healthcare that would make this all possible. What we do have are right-wing ideologues in control of statehouses due to voter suppression, gerrymandering and unlimited outside spending allowed in elections, and bills like the Texas ban are the result.
Texas abortion providers have been going through hell for the past two months, as they’ve had to turn away the vast majority of patients seeking constitutionally protected healthcare that’s legal in 49 other states, so they do deserve some grace when it comes to things like the rollout of emergency birth control packages.
But planning only gets people so far. The Time story rightfully concludes that no amount of free birth control is a solution for states passing abortion bans—no method is 100% effective, abusive partners exist, and, among people who want kids, their health and financial circumstances can change in an instant. Giving out emergency contraception in a state with a near-total abortion ban is like slapping tape on a leaking pipe.
Planned Parenthood of Greater Texas does acknowledge the limits of the kits. Sarah Wheat, chief external affairs officer of Planned Parenthood of Greater Texas, said in a statement to Jezebel:
“True empowerment is when every individual can access healthcare they need without political interference and without the systemic barriers that have been put up in Texas over decades. In the lead-up to SB 8 our health center staff was so concerned and tried to figure out what they could do short of eliminating this law—and the empowerment kits (and their name) came out of their efforts. The goal is to give a little bit of power back to patients with resources and information. But of course, that’s not enough. We want to be able to provide full access to all services, including abortion.”
The Supreme Court heard emergency arguments in two cases about the Texas law on November 1 and could take action any day. Advocates and journalists said the justices appeared receptive to abortion providers’ claims, but we don’t know if the court would block the law as the cases proceed through the lower courts or let abortion remain banned after 6 weeks as the lawsuits continue, which would shutter clinics that provide all kinds of reproductive care. For now, the power remains in the hands of nine unelected people serving life terms.