Image Courtesy of The Office of Texas Governor Greg Abbott
Texas Senate Bill 8 came into effect September 1, effectively banning abortions at and beyond six weeks. “Fetal heartbeat has become a key medical predictor that an unborn child will reach live birth,” says the new bill, requiring physicians to determine the presence of cardiac activity before performing an abortion. But many were concerned about the unique enforcement of the new bill.
Heartbeat bills aren’t new; in fact earlier this year one such bill was signed in South Carolina. Texas and Oklahoma, however, are the only two states where heartbeat bills have been passed rather than struck down or temporarily blocked. Just before the new Texas law went into effect, the Supreme Court refused to block it with a vote of 5 to 4. Despite their decision, the Supreme Court stressed that they were not addressing the constitutionality of the bill but would be prepared to when that issue is properly presented to them.
The Texas heartbeat bill does allow emergency medical exemptions to the required heartbeat test and restriction on abortions beyond six weeks. Physicians making this emergency exemption would have to make a written notation with their belief of the need for the exemption as well as the medical condition of the patient.
The actual enforcement of the new law, however, raised a great deal of attention. Only private citizens, not officers or employees of the state and local government, can take civil legal action if the new bill is violated. The unique enforcement of Texas’ new heartbeat bill differs from the Oklahoma heartbeat bill, the only other such bill that has been passed in a state without being temporarily blocked. The resulting lawsuits would not target the mother recieving the abortion but instead the abortion provider and those that “knowingly [engage] in conduct that aids or abets the performance or inducement of an abortion.” The new law also excludes those who impregnated the patient through sexual assault from filing such lawsuits to try to get money from the case. Claimants in these legal cases could be awarded a minimum of $10,000 for each violation of the law by the defendant.
The potential monetary gain and unique enforcement of the new law has drawn critics of the bill to call it a form of bounty hunting, turning neighbor against neighbor. Pro-life defenders of the bill call it instead a legal, peaceful, and nonviolent form through which to protest the systematic taking of unborn children’s lives. “The lawsuits would be against the individuals making money off of the abortion, the abortion industry itself. So this is not spy on your neighbor and see if they’re having an abortion,” said John Seago, the legislative director of Texas Right to Life, according to NPR.
Several interest groups are taking their own approaches to subvert the effects of the bill. The Satanic Temple, based in Salem, Massachusetts, is claiming “abortion rituals” to be an important part of their beliefs. As a result, the Temple filed a letter to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to retain access to Misoprostol and Mifepristone, abortion pills, on the grounds of religious freedom. “Last year the Supreme Court refused to hear a case from Satanists to overturn Missouri’s abortion laws, but the group is hoping that an appeal to the federal government could make a difference,” reported Fortune magazine.
Some corporations voiced their opposition to the heartbeat bill. Uber and Lyft promised to cover any legal fees their employees may incur by aiding and abetting an abortion that violated the law. Lyft also said it would donate $1 million to Planned Parenthood. Bumble and Match.com pledged to raise funds to work against the heartbeat bill by supporting women in getting abortions out-of-state. The new Texas heartbeat bill is one of many proposed heartbeat bills around the country, albeit with a unique form of enforcement. Most of these bills have remained in a state of legal limbo, with some pro-life advocates hoping one will eventually be sufficient to challenge Roe v. Wade and overturn the federal government’s allowance of abortion, handing the issue down to the states. Like these other heartbeat bills, although it was passed, the Texas heartbeat law is not totally protected, with potential threats coming from future Supreme Court decisions, corporate pressure, and even a challenge on grounds of religious freedom. Americans will have to wait and see how the institutions of this country settle the new development in Texas.