Texas Heartbeat Act: What You Need to Know
Gov. Greg Abbott (R-TX) signed Senate Bill 8, which bans abortions after six weeks of pregnancy in mid-May. Section 1 titled the “Texas Heartbeat Act,” which came into effect on Sept. 1 of this year. The law articulates that medical professionals are banned from performing or inducing an abortion after six weeks of pregnancy. A key point in the Texas Heartbeat Act is located in section 171. 203. To summarize, a fetal heartbeat must be detected for the act to succeed. A fetal heartbeat is defined as “cardiac activity or the steady and repetitive rhythmic contraction of the fetal heart within the gestational sac.”
Some vital things to note, individuals seeking an abortion will not be punished, but medical professionals or someone who drives an individual seeking an abortion can face repercussions. Punishments, in this case, come in the form of lawsuits, with defendants having to pay the prosecutors a fine of $10,000 going into the pockets of the prosecutors. However, with sufficient evidence, almost anyone can take the case to court.
This lawsuit also allows medical providers to fight for their practice, just as Dr. Alan Braid does. Braid is an obstetrics and gynecology resident who practices in San Antonio, Texas, who admitted to performing an abortion during the ban in Texas. Braid specified that he did so out of a belief that abortion is a vital part of healthcare and serves as an individual taking action.
This is such a trending topic because it limits a person’s right to choose and contradicts the landmark Supreme Court case Roe vs. Wade.
In Roe vs. Wade (1973), Norma McCorvey wanted to terminate her pregnancy. Abortion was legal in Texas at the time, but only to save the mothers’ life. She challenged the enforcer of that law, Henry Wade, the district attorney of Dallas County, resulting in the law being struck down in the Supreme Court 7-2 in 1973. The main issue was privacy and liberty in choosing to terminate a pregnancy, which is not clearly stated anywhere in the constitution.
The main point argued was that of Due Process under the 5th and 14th amendments. Which is to provide fair procedures to ensure no one is deprived of life, liberty, or property. Ultimately, what was decided was that an individual could choose to end their pregnancy support in the first trimester. In the second trimester, the government could regulate but not ban abortions considering the carriers’ health. Now, Texas could prohibit abortions during the third trimester, except in cases where the individual carrying the child could be in danger. This remained the precedent for over 40 years. Many argue that if the Supreme Court overturned this case, a person’s constitutional right to choose would be stripped. On the other hand, those who argue for abortion restrictions see the abortion laws as a success in the idea of that.
However, there is an exception within the Texas Heartbeat Act. The law states that if “(1) the physician’s belief that a medical emergency necessitated the abortion; and (2) the medical condition of the pregnant woman that prevents compliance with this subchapter,” abortion would be legal. It’s up to the medical professional to decide the definition of a medical emergency in this context. This leaves room for interpretation, as “medical emergency” is an undefined term in the act. With such vague language, individuals are finding ways around the act, such as buying abortion pills online, which may be dangerous as their safety is unknown. The FDA stated to NBC that although sites such as Plan C claim to be safe, they haven’t been adequately inspected.
Many people and corporations have responded to this act, the majority being negative. One of the first calls to action was orchestrated by Lyft. As those “assisting” or transporting those with the intent of an abortion can be held responsible, Lyft had created a legal fund to cover 100% of legal fees if their drivers are sued. Lyft President, John Zimmer, explained to NPR, “No. 1, the law threatens to punish drivers for getting people where they need to go. You know if you imagine being a driver and not knowing if you’re breaking the law or giving someone a ride.” Zimmer believes it’s unethical to press charges against drivers who have no knowledge of their passengers. Lyft also commented that the law contradicts what they believe to be fundamental human rights and their values as a company.
There has also been a federal response to the Texas Heartbeat Act. The House approved The Women’s Health Protection Act. The Women’s Health Protection Act was introduced on June 8, 2021, and gives health care providers the ability to offer abortions without state restrictions, opposing the Texas Heartbeat Act. The exception, in this case, revolves around fetal viability or the chance of survival of a fetus outside the uterus. This is at about 24 weeks. After this period, abortions would be illegal. However, it’s unlikely that the Senate will pass this law due to its even division of Democrats and Republicans. This act was introduced by congresswoman Judy Chu (D-CA), who believes that abortion is healthcare. She also highlights areas of injustice within the act for people of color and the LGBTQ+ community. Chu publicly expressed, “presently, the harms of abortion-specific restrictions fall especially heavily on people with low incomes, BIPOC, immigrants, young people, people with disabilities, and those living in rural and other medically underserved areas.”
Further governmental responses include the U.S. Supreme Court’s refusal to block the policy. This sparked a reaction from the Biden administration, with the Department of Justice suing the state of Texas and challenging the constitutionality of the bill. President Biden tweeted that “Texas SB8 will impair women’s access to health care and, outrageously, deputizes private citizens to sue those they believe helped another person get a banned abortion. It’s a blatant violation of the right established under Roe V. Wade. We will protect and defend that right.” This comment appeals to the demographic of the left but could perhaps damage relationships with those who support the Texas Heartbeat Bill.
The Texas Heartbeat Bill emphasizes how timely the debate surrounding abortion is in the present day. As the 2022 midterms approach and carry on into the 2024 presidential election, candidates will have to express their opinions to appeal to voters.