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Last week, Texas introduced a bill that would make it illegal for internet service providers to give users access to information about how to get abortion pills. The bill, called the Women and Child Safety Act, would also criminalize creating, editing, or hosting a website that helps people apply for abortions.
If the law passes, Internet service providers (ISPs) will be forced to block websites “operated by or on behalf of an abortion provider or fund.” ISPs would also have to filter any website that helps people who “offer or support or promote elective abortions” in almost any way, including raising funds.
Settlement of the Roe v. Wade through the Supreme Court left the country with a patchwork of reproductive health laws with varying degrees of limitations or approvals. That sparked interest in securing access to abortion across state lines, and Republican lawmakers were quick to move to restrict the distribution of abortion pills and related information.
The bill is part of a trend in Texas, where lawmakers are working to create a special, enclosed Texas Internet.
The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals overturned a ban on Texas’ HB 20, a statute that prohibits social media platforms from moderating content or blocking users based on their “opinions,” tantamount to saying that social Media platforms cannot moderate content at all. Free-speech advocates in Texas don’t seem to care that moderating content is itself a form of speech, and that the constitution gives private corporations the same right to speak up as citizens.
“Right now, when this state law goes into effect, we’re stuck in a situation where we may see ISPs fight in court and say they have a First Amendment right to host this content,” he said Evan Greer, director of the nonprofit Fight for the Future.
Five years ago, such a law would have violated federal law. Do you remember net neutrality? Net neutrality forced ISPs to behave like phone companies and treat all traffic equally, with no ability to restrict or filter the content transmitted on their networks. But net neutrality was lifted in 2018, essentially reclassifying internet service as a luxury with little regulatory oversight and upending consumers’ right to freely access the internet.
“We really need lawmakers to wake up and understand that technology policy issues are not shaky concerns,” Greer said. “These are bread-and-butter issues for moms and pops, and they have as big an impact on people’s reproductive rights as the legislation that moves for or against access to abortion in general.”
Since then, Democrats have been working to restore net neutrality, and they likely would have done so already if Republican lawmakers hadn’t worked to halt essential government functions. President Biden nominated attorney Gigi Sohn to fill a vacant chair at the FCC in 2021, but Republicans have since blocked her nomination.
“One of the most tangible things Senate Democrats can do to protect reproductive rights is get their ass off and get Gigi Sohn confirmed,” Greer said.