The heartless “heartbeat” bill

New Texas law threatens reproductive rights

Texas Governor Greg Abbott signed into law Senate Bill 8, also known as the “hearbeat bill”, which prohibits women from getting an abortion in Texas as early as six weeks – often before women even know they’re pregnant. 

The “heartbeat bill” grants virtually any private citizen, even non-Texas residents with zero connection to the person having the abortion, the ability to sue abortion providers. Texas State Senator Bryan Hughes, the bill’s sponsor in the Senate, reported to CNN that the bill is meant to “encourage people to bring these claims.” By allowing people to threaten those who help people seeking an abortion, Texas hopes to discourage citizens from getting abortions. 

According to the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP), between nine and 14 percent of women have irregular periods between their first period and menopause. This means that approximately 15 million people who experience menstruation will have irregular cycles at some point in their lives. Irregular periods can be caused by many factors besides pregnancy, including but not limited to: other underlying health conditions, hormonal imbalances, medications, or even stress. To prevent abortions at such an early stage is illogical and cruel due to the inconsistent nature of many people’s cycles. 

The Texas bill SB8 does make exceptions in allowance of abortion in cases of medical emergencies; however, there are no exceptions if someone is the victim of rape or incest. With the heavy restrictions both in the timing and surrounding circumstances, this abortion bill is amounting to a near-total ban.  

Despite a dozen other U.S. states having passed similar “heartbeat bills”, none have been enforced yet due to court challenges. What sets the Texas abortion ban apart from the rest is that it relieves the state from enforcing any laws, and instead places the authority and power among the hands of ordinary Americans. It is important to note that those who successfully sue can collect a minimum of $10,000, and those unfairly sued will be out any money spent on legal fees. 

Any individual who “aids or abets” abortion care or someone who “intends” to help an abortion patient is at risk of these frivolous lawsuits according to Aimee Arrambide, executive director of reproductive rights advocacy group, Avow Texas. The bill’s specifications for who can be sued is so broad it can target not only abortion clinics and staff but possibly its volunteers, donors, and activists as well. The extent of the people who could be affected by this bill could even include “domestic violence and rape crisis counselors who offer guidance, family members who lend money to abortion patients, a friend who gives a ride to an appointment, or even someone that provides an address to a clinic,” said Arrambide. 

Texas did include an amendment that prevents rapists and perpetrators of incest from taking legal action against their victims. However, this only applies to those convicted of rape or incest. Currently,  91 percent of women in Texas do not even report rape to the police, much less see their abuser get convicted in court. To make matters worse, this law does not prevent someone associated with a rapist, like a family or friend, from suing their victim who seeks an abortion. This amendment is in response to concerns over potential rapists exerting even more control over their victim(s); however, it’s clear that the purpose of the amendment is not focused on truly protecting any victims. 

In a lot of ways, this bill is moving the country backward. Representative Donna Howard, a Democrat from Austin, said in her speech on the house floor before the bill’s final passage, “This bill empowers rapists and abusers, and lawyers and trolls who want to abuse and clog up our courts.” She fears that this abortion ban will set people “back into the [pre-Roe] shadows” because of the fear of harassment through lawsuits that anyone in this country would be able to file. 

More than 370 licensed attorneys, including local leaders in cities across Texas, have criticized this law, noting its unconstitutional nature. In an open letter to the Texas state legislature, they warn that “granting legal standing to those who have not personally suffered an injury could have a destabilizing impact on the state’s entire legal infrastructure.” Additionally, more than 200 physicians condemned the bill, arguing that its effects could be “chilling”, preventing physicians in over 30 specialties, including primary care, emergency medicine, OB/GYN, and internal medicine, from providing a full-picture, complete information on all pregnancy options to patients due to lawsuits.

Regardless of anyone’s personal feelings about abortions, it is a given that medical providers should be able to give their patients the best care possible. This includes explaining all of the patients’ options.