OPINION | The Texas Heartbeat Bill


Texas Governor Greg Abbott was responsible for signing the bill into law.

Arwen Wen, Managing Editor

For the past fifty odd years, women and their right to choose to have an abortion or not have been protected under the Roe v. Wade decision in January of 1973. In her lawsuit, Jane Roe (a pseudonym to protect the identity of the plaintiff) alleged that the state laws against abortion were unconstitutionally vague and abridged her right of personal privacy, protected by the First, Fourth, Fifth, Ninth, and Fourteenth Amendments. 

It was decided then that in the first trimester of pregnancy, the state may not regulate the abortion decision; only the pregnant woman and her attending physician can make that decision. In the second trimester, the state may impose regulations on abortion that are reasonably related to maternal health. In the third trimester, once the fetus reaches the point of “viability,” a state may regulate abortions or prohibit them entirely, so long as the laws contain exceptions for cases when abortion is necessary to save the life or health of the mother. 

The United States of America has always been about freedom; the whole concept of our country is freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of choice. Thomas Jefferson wrote to Joseph Williard in March 1789, “It is the great parent of science [and] of virtue: and that a nation will be great in both, always in proportion as it is free.” This concept has been implemented dozens of times over the years, and more so in the chaos of the COVID-19 outbreak. Anti-vaxxers, those who refuse the COVID-19 vaccine, and anti-maskers, held up signs at protests mostly in red states that read, My Body, My Choice. This traditionally feminist slogan has been and is used in several countries, not just the United States, about abortion and issues of bodily autonomy. These people weren’t protesting a government that was regulating uteruses, a government that was telling women when they could end a pregnancy that was going on in their own bodies. They were instead protesting a simple and painless public-health measure. 

This now creates a paradox to Senate Bill 8, also known as the Texas Heartbeat Bill. Texas has now enacted a bill that allows private citizens to sue people who helped women get abortions after six weeks, well before many women even know they are pregnant. Not only is this law a de facto ban on most abortions in Texas, it’s bribing residents — in fact, anyone — to report friends, family members, or just a woman in the community with pay-outs of a minimum ten thousand dollars, along with court costs if a defendant is proven liable. Senate Bill 8 also shields those who sue but lose from paying any court costs. The law contains exceptions in the case of medical emergency but not for rape or incest.

The logic and reasoning behind the bill, pushed by pro-life organizations, is that the fetus is a human being, a life. The name references the point in time at around six weeks’ gestation when the embryo’s cardiac activity can first be detected by an transvaginal ultrasound. 

“The heartbeat is the universal sign of life,” said Texas state Senator Bryan Hughes in May about the bill he authored. “If a Texan’s heartbeat is detected, his or her life will be protected.”

Within the bill, the writing defines a fetal heartbeat as “a cardiac activity or the steady and repetitive rhythmic contraction of the fetal heart within the gestational sac.”

Dr. Nisha Verma, a physician who provides abortion services and a fellow at the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, said the activity measured on an ultrasound in early gestation is electrical impulses, not a true heartbeat (via the Texas Tribune). “[Texas’ abortion law] is intentionally written that way in order to evoke an emotional response. But what it is in reality is just a ban on abortion at six weeks’ gestation, which is two weeks after a missed period. It’s incredibly unconstitutional,” said the executive director of the statewide abortion rights group Avow Texas, Aimee Arrambide.

This law also raises the issue of whether a mother is able to provide for the child. How can the child have a life if the mother is financially unable to provide? What will happen to the mother’s future? And then there’s the wording, which prevents women from getting an abortion even if they did not consent to sex. Texas, according to FBI crime statistics, has a rate of 55.2 rapes and sexual assaults per 100,000 people. While rape may be an issue that people shy away from, to prevent awkward situations, it is still a very real thing. The same goes from incest, for sexual child abuse. 

Congressional candidate for the 28th district of Texas, Jessica Cisneros, also spoke out against the act, stating that the law puts women at risk and it has a disproportionate impact on women of color and low income women. She stated, “When laws that push access to reproductive health care out of reach take effect, it’s always women of color and low-income communities that are most harmed. Others who have the resources and connections will always find a way to receive the care they need.”

There’s also another question churning in my mind: if Texas pro-life organizations are so intent on protecting all life, then why not fund the money into creating safer street systems and school environments?. According to statista.com, there were 118 school shootings for schools from K-12 alone in 2020, an all-time high. An estimated three million children in the United States are exposed to shootings per year (via everytownresearch.org). 

As an avid reader and consumer of the film industry, the first thought that popped to my mind when I heard of the Texas Heartbeat Bill was, “that kind of sounds like The Handmaid’s Tale.” Margaret Atwood’s 1985 dystopian novel — and the consequential television series — forbids women from getting abortions, from marrying someone of their choice. Taking contraception or partaking in any birth control results in consequences, such as death or the severing of limbs. And as a female person of color and a student in the American public school system, this law, to put it simply, bothers me. Choice over my own body, over my own decisions, have always been important to me, and I suspect, due to strong reactions to this bill, others would agree. Though I am not a Texas resident, I felt concern for the friends I have that do live there, and I was shocked and outraged to hear that other state governments are considering implementing the same law.

Senate Bill 8 hasn’t gone without opposition. In her dissenting opinion, Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor defiantly wrote that “presented with an application to enjoin a flagrantly unconstitutional law engineered to prohibit women from exercising their constitutional rights and evade judicial scrutiny,  a majority of justices have opted to bury their heads in the sand.” Women in Dallas protested while wearing costumes from The Handmaid’s Tale, and protesters rallied in the Texas state capitol of Austin. The day after this law was enacted, the hashtag #texastaliban, a critical reference to the Taliban, trended on Twitter with over fifty thousand tweets. Hopefully, as the news spreads, more will stand up for the rights of the women in Texas.