A Texas abortion law that restricts and effectively bans the procedure at as early as six weeks of pregnancy went into effect early this morning after the Supreme Court failed to intervene. The legislation is one of more than 600 new laws going into effect in Texas that expand access to guns, change school curriculum, protect police budgets, and more.
Originally signed by the governor back in May, the new Texas abortion policy (S.B. 8) bans physicians from performing abortions once they can detect a fetal heartbeat, which typically occurs at around six weeks of pregnancy. However, experts told The Guardian that the term “fetal heartbeat” is misleading because the fetus—technically still an embryo until eight weeks—doesn’t have a fully formed heart at that stage of development, and the “beat” is more of a flutter detectable only through an ultrasound. Legislation like this bans abortion “long before the point of viability,” the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) said in 2017 about a similar policy. “Whether a fetus is viable is a medical determination and occurs much later in pregnancy.”
Plus, many people may not even be aware that they’re pregnant at six weeks. Although some may start to notice changes in their menstrual cycle or symptoms such as nausea and fatigue at three or four weeks, others may attribute those symptoms to other factors in their life, like travel or stress. And early pregnancy symptoms can be very different from person to person.
One particularly troubling aspect of the new law is that it’s designed to be enforced not through criminal suits brought by the state, but through civil suits brought by private citizens against anyone who “knowingly engages in conduct that aids or abets the performance or inducement of an abortion.” That includes anyone actually performing the procedure as well as anyone paying or reimbursing the cost of the procedure.
The ban did face considerable legal opposition, and a large coalition of abortion care providers and advocacy groups (including the Center for Reproductive Rights, Planned Parenthood Federation of America, and the American Civil Liberties Union among others) filed an emergency request earlier this week to block it. However, the Supreme Court has yet to rule on it, and the Court’s inaction allowed the new law to go into effect. While a dozen other states have previously tried to enact laws restricting abortion in early pregnancy like this one, all of them were blocked in court. The new law is the first to effectively ban abortion as early as six weeks since before Roe v. Wade.
“Today, Texas law S.B. 8 went into effect. This extreme Texas law blatantly violates the constitutional right established under Roe v. Wade and upheld as precedent for nearly half a century,” President Biden said in a statement. “My administration is deeply committed to the constitutional right established in Roe v. Wade nearly five decades ago and will protect and defend that right.”
Now, activists say they’re doing everything they can to reduce the impact of S.B. 8 in Texas, continuing to fight to have it repealed, and warning that other states will soon see similar bills. They also say the legislation will force many to make a financially, logistically, and often emotionally costly journey out of state to get the care they need. And, of course, not everyone has the means to make that travel possible.
“As Senate Bill 8 nearly closes down abortion care today, our ability to provide the best health care for our patients has been turned over to self-appointed vigilantes and whoever holds the power at any moment,” Amy Hagstrom Miller, president and CEO of Whole Woman’s Health, one of the plaintiffs in the case against the bill, said in a statement. The ban “robs Texans of their ability to make decisions about their health and their futures. We have been here before, and we’ll continue serving our patients however we legally can and fighting for their right to safe, compassionate abortion care,” Miller said.
“Texas has one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the country. Forcing Texans to carry pregnancies to term against their will is both cruel and dangerous. We’re doing everything we can to stop this deeply unpopular and blatantly unconstitutional law,” the ACLU of Texas said on Twitter.
“Helping Texans get to their abortions is a form of radical self-care, as abortions help people thrive. Without action from the Court, countless pregnant Texans will be forced to flee the state for health care, while those who are unable to travel will be forced to remain pregnant and likely carry their pregnancy to term,” Anna Rupani, co-executive director of Fund Texas Choice, said in a statement. “Bans like this are racist, classist, and do not take into account the realities that Texans support abortion access. Fund Texas Choice is no stranger to bans like this, and is still committed to its mission of helping pregnant Texans get to care they need.”
“TX abortion ban, #SB8, gives politicians, neighbors, & even strangers the right to sue those who provide—or just help patients get—abortion after 6 wks,” All* Above All said on Twitter. “They won’t stop with TX. If we don’t fight back, we could see similar restrictions across the country.”
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- 4 People Fighting to Save Abortion Access in Texas Explain What’s at Stake