The founder of a 1970s underground abortion network said Texas’ abortion law is like something out of East Germany or the Soviet Union

Protesters hold signs at an abortion rally at the Texas State Capitol in 2019.
Protesters against abortion restrictions gathered at the Texas State Capitol on May 21, 2019.
  • The founder of the Jane Collective slammed the Texas abortion law, saying it's emblematic of a "big brother state."
  • The Jane Collective was an underground abortion network in operation until Roe v. Wade.
  • The Texas abortion law says citizens can sue people facilitating abortions for $10,000.
  • See more stories on Insider's business page.

Heather Booth, the founder of an underground abortion network that served more than 10,000 women before Roe v. Wade, said Texas' new abortion law reminds her of something out of an authoritarian regime.

Texas earlier this month passed a strict abortion law prohibiting anyone from obtaining the procedure after six weeks of pregnancy, a point at which most people do not yet know they are pregnant. The law, which went into effect September 1, has forced some abortion providers in the state to turn away patients seeking the procedure.

One of the most striking facets of the law is that it incentivizes ordinary citizens to sue anyone who they view as "aiding and abetting" an abortion - a concept that Booth refers to as "a Big Brother state."

"It's what we hear about authoritarian regimes, in East Germany or so former Soviet Union," Booth said in an interview with Insider. "Encouraging that kind of social distrust and generating it, I found that particularly shocking."

East Germany's Stasi policing agency relied on hundreds of thousands of informants to snitch on friends and family members when they were breaking rules imposed by the East German government. The Soviet Union similarly employed a secret police system that encouraged informing on citizens. Organizers like Booth believe the practice is making a comeback in Texas.

Booth's not the only one upset at the policy. A whopping 81% of Americans who responded to a Monmouth University poll said they disapproved of the incentive, which awards citizens who file successful lawsuits with $10,000.

Booth told Insider she never meant to start the Jane Collective. It was supposed to be a single "good deed," she said. She found a physician for a friend "who was nearly suicidal," and then word spread from there. Suddenly, droves of women sought abortions, and Booth then realized just how much the network was needed.

"It was very demanding work. The focus wasn't a profit. The focus was on the lives of the women involved. The focus was building a caring community," she said.

"And so it was a great strain, I think, for the women who were involved, and a real sacrifice in order to care for the lives of the women who came through," she continued.

Though perhaps intended to curtail abortions, the Texas law has not stopped people from seeking and obtaining the procedure. Providers outside the state told Insider more Texans are flocking to their clinics instead.

These clinics continue to respond to the demand for abortions, and reproductive rights activists are fighting against the restrictive law. The Department of Justice has sued Texas over the ban.

After Roe v. Wade was decided in 1973, the Jane Collective disbanded, but Booth said the battle over abortion rights continues to be as critical as ever.

"We need to organize. We need to do ongoing organization and not just one-time mobilization," she said. "Build a permanent way to connect with people in families and communities, and help them see what's really at stake.

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