The Texas Heartbeat Bill: Roe vs. Wade under Attack

By Henrike Kattoll

This year, more abor­tion restric­tions have been put into place across the U.S. than ever before, and it’s get­ting messy. In 2021 alone, state leg­is­la­tures have passed more than 90 laws restrict­ing repro­duc­tive rights. Accord­ing to an NPR arti­clesome state leg­is­la­tures are embold­ened by the 6 – 3 con­ser­v­a­tive major­i­ty in the Supreme Court, a major­i­ty that dri­ves the cur­rent wave of antiabor­tion policies.

Prob­a­bly the biggest back­lash – espe­cial­ly on social media – occurred when Gov­er­nor Greg Abbott signed Sen­ate Bill 8, also called Texas Heart­beat Bill, into effect for Sep­tem­ber 1, 2021. Why is this law so prob­lem­at­ic? There are three main rea­sons: (1) as soon as car­diac activ­i­ty of the fetus is detect­ed – usu­al­ly around six weeks when most women do not know they are preg­nant – an abor­tion is no longer pos­si­ble, (2) there are no excep­tions to the law, not even in the case of rape or incest, and (3) the bill asks indi­vid­u­als to bring civ­il law­suits against abor­tion providers, aiders, or abettors. 

In case of a suc­cess­ful law­suit, a plain­tiff can earn up to $10,000. The orga­ni­za­tion Texas Right to Life had even set up a whistle­blow­er web­site which has since been shut down. When it was still active, indi­vid­u­als could send in tips and, if avail­able, pic­tures of peo­ple and providers who may have vio­lat­ed the Heart­beat Act. This web­site led sev­er­al social media users to flood the web­site with fake tips and pic­tures, like Tik­Tok user Vic­to­ria Ham­mett.

Sign­ing of the Texas Heart­beat Act

Anoth­er prob­lem aris­es from a sep­a­rate bill that Gov. Greg Abbott signed into law just weeks after the Heart­beat Bill. This new bill, which goes into effect Decem­ber 2, 2021, restricts the access to abor­tion-induc­ing med­ica­tion, nar­rows down the win­dow for physi­cians to admin­is­ter the med­ica­tion from ten to sev­en weeks, and pun­ish­es vio­la­tions by up to two years in prison and a $10,000 fine. The three-week reduc­tion goes against FDA guide­lines and makes Texas one of the states with the strictest abor­tion poli­cies in the coun­try. Sad­ly, both emer­gency requests to the U.S. Supreme Court – one to stop the Heart­beat Bill, anoth­er to stop the restric­tion of abor­tion-induc­ing med­ica­tion – were denied in a 5 – 4 deci­sion. This deci­sion doesn’t come as a sur­prise as the Trump admin­is­tra­tion had appoint­ed 220 new judges to the fed­er­al and dis­trict courts, and many have a con­vic­tion rate hos­tile towards repro­duc­tive rights. As these posi­tions are life­time posi­tions, the appoint­ed judges have the pow­er to affect mul­ti­ple gen­er­a­tions and make it eas­i­er for states to imple­ment restric­tions. This, in turn, can keep abor­tions out of reach for mil­lions, espe­cial­ly mar­gin­al­ized communities.

Accord­ing to Planned Par­ent­hood, the Supreme Court land­mark rul­ing Roe v. Wade had been under scruti­ny for years although 79% of Amer­i­cans sup­port the con­sti­tu­tion­al right to access abor­tion under Roe v. Wade. There­fore, it is sur­pris­ing that more than 20 states have estab­lished ‘trig­ger laws’ or ‘pre-Roe bans’. Out of those states, twelve – Arkansas, Ida­ho, Ken­tucky, Louisiana, Mis­sis­sip­pi, Mis­souri, North Dako­ta, Okla­homa, South Dako­ta, Ten­nessee, Texas, and Utah – will auto­mat­i­cal­ly ban first and sec­ond trimester abor­tions once Roe v. Wade is over­turned. Iron­i­cal­ly, almost all of these states, except Ida­ho and Utah, rank in the low­er half or bot­tom of the Unit­ed Health Foundation’s rank­ing for health care of women and chil­dren.

While many West­ern coun­tries attempt to pass abor­tion laws as pro­gres­sive as Roe vs. Wade, it seems that the Unit­ed States is mov­ing back­wards in time.

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