Halloween has come early for Texas — in the form of the most terrifying abortion restriction in the USA. Senate Bill 8 (SB8) was signed into law in May 2021 by Texas Governor Greg Abbott and took effect in September after the US Supreme Court’s midnight approval on Sept. 15. The law bans abortions after a fetal “heartbeat” can be detected — usually around six weeks — a time frame before most women know they are pregnant, with no exceptions for rape or incest.
The very premise of SB8 that defines a fetal heartbeat as “a cardiac activity or the steady and repetitive rhythmic contraction of the fetal heart within the gestational sac,” is flawed. “The heartbeat is the universal sign of life,” Texas Senator Bryan Hughes, bill author, declared. Yet, according to the Texas Tribune, many medical experts around the country disagree. An embryo at six weeks of pregnancy does not possess a developed heart or cardiac valves and therefore, has no heartbeat. The sounds heard in “early gestation [are] electric impulses…actually manufactured by the ultrasound machine,” Dr. Nisha Verma from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists explained. The term “heartbeat,” as stated in the bill, is emotionally driven rather than scientifically, and is thus simply a trick for sympathy.
SB8, overwhelmingly, eliminates choice because people rarely know of their pregnancy since six weeks is only two weeks after the first missed period. In 2018, the University of Texas discovered “that 16% [of patients] were less than six weeks pregnant at the time of their abortion.” People, such as those with unplanned pregnancies, can easily not know of their pregnancies, especially if they have irregular cycles which can be affected by stress, food intake or physical exercise. In an “ideal” situation, one would only have one to two weeks to decide whether they want to obtain an abortion. Other Texas laws require an ultrasound 24 hours prior to abortion. Patients must schedule two trips to the abortion clinic, reducing their windows of opportunity for the procedure. The Guttmacher Institute predicted in August that, on average, a patient’s distance to their nearest abortion clinic would increase 14-fold, meaning the distance to the nearest clinic would be fourteen times further, as a direct result of shutdowns due to SB8. Abortion has become inaccessible for lower-income people especially, who cannot accomodate for lost wages, two different hospital visits, travel costs and a possible overnight stay — especially without planning beyond the two weeks that they have.
The enforcement of this law is left up to private citizens who can sue anyone who helped a patient obtain an abortion. This is biased towards plaintiffs (the people suing) because they can recoup their legal fees at the end of the lawsuit (defendants cannot) and there is no limit on the number of people they can sue, therefore weaponizing Texas’ legal system.
Most egregiously, SB8 provides no exception for survivors of rape or incest. Victims are forced to carry the baby to term, living with a constant reminder of quite possibly the most painful moment of their life. While adoption is an option, no one should be forced to lose their bodily autonomy for nine months. Furthermore, the Texas Tribune asserts that there are 15,900 children in the state’s foster care system, with 415 forced to live in unlicensed facilities. Opposing abortion is pro-birth, not pro-life, because the politicians who create these laws do not care enough about ensuring their citizens decent lives. Roe v. Wade ensured every American the right to a safe, legal abortion up to 24 weeks of pregnancy. At its core, SB8 is unconstitutional. Every human being should have the right to control their own body — over ¾ of Americans think so. Abortion is healthcare, regardless of the reason behind it.