The Texas abortion ban with the coming into force of the Texas Heartbeat bill has got many pro-choice activists and abortion providers angry at the state’s insistence on prohibiting abortion in some way or form.

The Texas state heartbeat bill was signed into law by Governor Greg Abbott in May 2021 but came into force in September after the US Supreme court failed to respond to an emergency appeal by pro-choice activists. But what does the law say?

Texas heartbeat bill

Texas Heartbeat bill - Texas abortion laws

Also known as Senate Bill 8, it is a bill that bans the termination of a pregnancy with the onset of embryonic cardiac activity, usually after six weeks of pregnancy – before some women even know they are pregnant. Effectively, pregnancy termination after six weeks is prohibited, with exceptions only for medical emergencies. The bill signed by Governor Greg Abbott in May 2021 came into force on 1st September 2021.

The Texas heartbeat bill also makes provisions for individuals to sue doctors, abortion providers, and others for performing an abortion after six weeks of pregnancy.

Governor Greg Abbott explained the reasoning behind the Texas heartbeat bill, saying, “Our creator endowed us with the right to life and yet millions of children lose their right to life every year because of abortion. The legislator worked together on a bipartisan basis to pass a bill that I’m about to sign that ensures that the life of every unborn child who has a heartbeat will be saved from the ravages of abortion.”

Texas Senate Bill 8: Medical and Legal Implication

SB 8 bans doctors from offering abortion care if they find fetal cardiac tones. This Texas Abortion ban states that physicians can’t carry out pregnancy terminations if they find fetal rhythmic contractions of the fetal heart within the gestational sac. Fetal cardiac activity can also be detected using ultrasound in the early stages of pregnancy but before the fetus has developed. Termination is only allowed in medical emergencies.

Texas Heartbeat bill would prohibit most pregnant women in Texas from seeking abortion care. People may not know they have taken seed or seek care after six weeks. Some abortion facilities may not offer appointments for days or weeks, so even pregnant women may not be able to get an abortion before it’s too late. Because there is a delay in obtaining care, this Texas abortion ban will particularly impact Black patients and people with impoverished backgrounds.

The main reasons Texans delay their appointments are:

  • Inability to raise enough money for their abortions, which most private insurance plans in Texas don’t cover.
  • Difficulty in coordinating appointments around work, school and childcare.
  • Scheduling challenges that Texas law requires and the difficulties with scheduling separate ultrasound visits and separate abortion visits with one physician.

SB 8 establishes a private cause for action that allows almost anyone to sue someone who “aids and abets” abortions after six weeks of pregnancy. This particular provision prevents the state from enforcing the law and allows private parties to sue regardless of whether they are connected to the patient or even reside in Texas. SB 8 prohibits anyone from suing someone who has had an abortion.

SB 8 and Roe v. Wade ruling

The US Department of Justice filed a lawsuit in Texas, seeking the court to declare the Texas heartbeat bill null and void as it violates the 1973 Supreme court ruling in Roe v. Wade.

Norma McCorvey in Roe v Wade
Norma McCorvey (Jane Roe) (Left) and her attorney Gloria Allred standing near the US Supreme Court in 1989. (Source: CNN)

The supreme court in the famous landmark decision, ruled that:

  • A woman can terminate a pregnancy in the first trimester. 
  • The government may control pregnancy termination in the second trimester to protect the woman’s health.
  • To protect a matured fetus, states can ban abortion during the third trimester, except in the special circumstance where the health and life of the woman is at stake
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