Prisoner’s Dilemmas- V: The Texas Heart Beat Bill

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The headlines in the news have been animated by the controversial Texas law, SB 8; colloquially known as the Heartbeat Bill. The legislation boasts several stringent limitations on abortions that operate analogously to a de facto ban. However, the most shocking aspect of the bill is that it allows private citizens to sue facilities that have performed abortions for $10,000 or more per procedure. This feature of the law indirectly deputizes the residents of Texas and has the potential to lead to some unforeseen consequences. At its core, the Heartbeat Bill is a legal manifestation of the partisan tug-of-war in the abortion debate. While Pro-Life advocates may believe they have won this round, little do they realize Texas now has a Prisoner’s Dilemma on its hands. The blowback from this contentious [1] the legislation will impose economic costs on the state of Texas.

It is worth noting that only a minuscule number of the citizenry in Texas has had an abortion. Per the Guttmacher Institute, in 2017, only 55,440  Texas residents had abortions performed. This figure is meager when compared to the total of all adult female Texans. Also, most voters are conservative. How could this move be detrimental to the entire state of Texas? The state only has a few liberal oases (West Texas & Austin); the overall impact of citizens moving to more progressive jurisdictions would only have a marginal effect on tax revenue. Perversely, this might have a disparate effect, leaving left-leaning municipalities such as Austin with a significant loss in local tax revenue. 

Texas having lower taxes and an affordable cost of living has resulted in population growth in recent years. Population growth and economic growth are correlated. Most of the Texas transplants are not coming from conservative-leaning states, but liberal high tax states such as California and New York. Arizona is another state currently experiencing a large diaspora of Americans migrating from high-tax states. Epitomized in the slogan “.. Don’t California, My Arizona..”. What happens when the conservative values of a low tax state become too off-putting for prospective residents? Not only hampers the economy through decreased tax revenue, but it hampers economic development in other ways. Left-leaning Tech Companies may enjoy the corporate tax rate of Texas. What happens when companies start choosing to avoid setting up offices in Texas for ethical reasons? More companies may opt to establish a campus in Phoenix instead of Austin. Causing an unfortunate ripple effect through the entire state economy. The Pro-Life camp is not doing themselves any favors by not striking a political middle ground. Progressives are only shooting themselves in the foot by avoiding Texas because of the Heartbeat Bill.

Foot Notes:

1.) This brief essay is in no way a commentary on the morality of abortion. Any such normative arguments would only detract from a game-theoretical assessment of the situation described.