The Governor of Texas has signed a bill that makes it illegal to get an abortion as soon as a fetal heartbeat is detected, which is around six weeks into pregnancy, making it one of the earliest abortion bans of any state within the US. Coming into effect in September, Senate Bill 8 has been condemned by pro-choice activists and legal professionals who criticize it for being "unconstitutional", while the Texas lawmakers believe they are "fighting for the lives of the unborn".
Banning abortions once heartbeats are detected – so-called "heartbeat bills" – have been proposed in many states including Georgia and Ohio, with some taking effect and some being blocked. They have picked up significant momentum in recent years, despite arguments claiming it is essentially an outright ban on abortion considering most people are not aware they are pregnant by six weeks – this milestone can be reached only two weeks after a missed period. This Texas heartbeat bill has no exceptions for pregnancies resulting from rape or incest.
Included in the bill is a provision that allows anyone suspected of violating it to be sued by other citizens. Although this cannot be targeted at pregnant individuals, it can be aimed at people, institutions, and doctors that may "aid or abet" in the process. According to abortion rights activists, this is in place to swamp institutions with so many lawsuits they may no longer have the resources to continue operation.
“So all of those different places where a person might need support to access abortion could find themselves being sued by people who disagree with the patient’s decision,” said Dyana Limon-Mercado, executive director of Planned Parenthood Texas Votes, in a statement reported by KUT.
Governor Greg Abbot, however, believes that this bill is a huge step in the right direction.
"Our creator endowed us with the right to life, and yet millions of children lose their right to life every year because of abortion. In Texas, we work to save those lives," Abbott said during the signing session.
"And that's exactly what the Texas Legislature did this session."
So, what does the science say? Many studies suggest that abortion bans may not only be ineffective, but also lead to significantly more injuries and deaths following unsafe abortions as patients seek illegal options. Interestingly, three studies between 2012 and 2018 (by Sedge et al. and the Guttmacher Institute) found that abortion rates are similar in areas where it is illegal compared to those where it is legal. Abortions are falling in developing countries overall, and studies suggest that investing in contraception and sexual health is more effective than legal protection of unborn children.
Regardless, abortion remains a contentious issue across the US, and this will likely continue as the bipartisan electives cement their stances between "pro-life" and "pro-choice".