Texas Republican Gov. Greg Abbott has signed a bill into law that bans abortions after a fetal heartbeat can be detected, possibly as early as six weeks.
The Texas Heartbeat Act (SB 8) puts Texas in line with more than a dozen other states that ban abortions. It would take effect September 1, but federal courts have mostly blocked states from enforcing similar measures.
More than a dozen other states also have fetal heartbeat abortion bans. However, the U.S. Supreme Court this week agreed to take up a Mississippi law that bans abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy and a favorable ruling could lay the groundwork for more abortion restrictions, including heartbeat bills.
"Our Creator endowed us with the right to life," Abbot said before signing the bill. "And yet millions of children lose their right to life every year because of abortion. In Texas, we work to save those lives. That's exactly what the Texas legislature did this session. They worked together on a bipartisan basis to pass a bill that I'm about to sign that ensures that the life of every unborn child who has a heartbeat will be saved from the ravages of abortion," Abbott said in a bill signing at his office.
Watch Gov. Gregg Abbott sign the Texas Heartbeat Act:
In a statement, Texas Right to Life, a pro-life advocacy group, said it applauded the Texas legislature's landmark work, but there's still more work to be done to protect life in The Lone Star State.
"The abortion industry continues to threaten vulnerable preborn children with discriminatory and early abortions," the statement said. "The Texas Abolition Strategy (SB 1647) would protect disabled preborn children, includes a roadmap to abolishing all abortions in Texas, and yet awaits a vote in the House Committee on Calendars. Many members of the Legislature have communicated the will to move SB 1647. Additionally, the Senate still has time to pass the Respecting Texas Patients' Right to Life Act (SB 917) that will reform the anti-Life 10-Day Rule used to hasten the deaths of patients in Texas hospitals."
"Texas Right to Life reminds our elected officials of their solemn duty to protect the lives of their citizens, especially the most vulnerable and innocent Texans in the womb," the statement continued.
The Texas law is unique in that it prohibits state officials from enforcing the ban. Instead, it allows anyone — even someone outside Texas — to sue an abortion provider or anyone else who may have helped someone get an abortion after the limit, and seek financial damages of up to $10,000 per defendant.
Critics say that provision would allow abortion opponents to flood the courts with lawsuits to harass doctors, patients, nurses, domestic violence counselors, a friend who drove a woman to a clinic, or even a parent who paid for a procedure.
Before the bill reached Abbott's desk, an abortion-rights group signaled they would challenge the law.
"The goal is clear: to relentlessly attack our reproductive rights until abortion is a right in name only. Passing these bills is not leadership, it is cruelty and extremism," said Alexis McGill Johnson, president of Planned Parenthood Action Fund.
Advanced technology can detect an electric signal flutter as early as six weeks into a pregnancy, even though the embryo isn't yet considered a fetus and doesn't have a heart. An embryo is called a fetus beginning in the 11th week of pregnancy, according to medical terms.
Texas law currently bans abortion after 20 weeks, with exceptions for a woman with a life-threatening medical condition or if the fetus has a severe abnormality. More than 90% of abortions take place in the first 13 weeks of a woman's pregnancy, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The Supreme Court will probably hear the Mississippi case in the fall, with a decision likely in spring 2022.
Have you have had an abortion, are contemplating ending your pregnancy, or would like pregnancy-related resources, please click here.