Texas passes Heartbeat Act, banning abortions after detectable fetal heartbeat

The Texas Heartbeat Act, which prohibits abortions after a fetal heartbeat has been detected, has been passed and went into law on Sept. 1

This act is legally referred to as “Senate Bill 8” or SB 8. SB 8 prohibits abortions after a fetal heartbeat of the unborn child can be detected. Section 3, Subchapter H, Sec. 171.201 of the act defines a fetal heartbeat as “a cardiac activity or the steady and repetitive rhythmic contraction of the fetal heart within the gestational sac.” While a fetus does not have a fully developed heart until 24 weeks of gestation, the heartbeat of a can be detected by an ultrasound as early as six weeks. 

The gestation period begins on the first day after the individual’s last period. This means that a six week pregnancy is only a four week old fetus. Most of the time, an individual will not know they are pregnant until a missed menstrual period, which is typically two weeks after the conception. This means that an individual may not even know they are pregnant until the sixth week of gestation has already passed. 

SB 8 includes many different aspects. The first of which is the prohibition of abortion after a fetal heartbeat. 

“Except as provided by Section 171.205, a physician may not knowingly perform or induce an abortion on a pregnant woman if the physician detected a fetal heartbeat for the unborn child as required by Section 171.203 or failed to perform a test to detect a fetal heartbeat.” Section 3, Subchapter H, Sec. 171.204 of SB 8 said. 

This section states that a physician is required to use appropriate methods in order to detect a fetal heartbeat, and may not perform an abortion if a heartbeat is detected. This includes providing the approximate gestational age, the method of determining the gestational age, the test used to detect the fetal heartbeat, the results of the test including the date and time. In Sec. 171.205, a physician may perform an abortion after the six week mark if they believe that there is a medical emergency that puts the individual at risk. Under this exception, a physician must provide sufficient written documentation of the medical emergency including the specifics of the individual’s condition.

SB 8 also prohibits “partial-birth abortions.” Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines this as “a surgical abortion that is typically performed during the third trimester or later part of the second trimester of pregnancy and in which the death of the fetus is induced after it has passed partway through the dilated cervix.” 

According to Section 6, Subchapter F, Sec. 171.102, partial-birth abortions are almost completely prohibited, regardless of gestational age or trimester.

“A physician or other person may not knowingly perform a partial-birth abortion,” the section said.

Similarly, there is an exception for this law. While the previous section allows an abortion to be performed under situations of a medical emergency, this section only allows a partial-birth abortion to be performed in the circumstance of a life-threatening emergency.  

This act is different from other abortion bills that Texas has tried to pass. Instead of the state enforcing the law, it allows private citizens to enact a civil lawsuit against individuals who perform an abortion or help someone get an abortion, known as “aiding and abetting.” The citizens who bring about these lawsuits can be awarded costs and attorney fees, injunctive relief and statutory damages; which means a payout no less than $10,000 for each abortion. This is only applicable within four years of the abortion.

The full text of SB 8 can be found at www.capitol.texas.gov. For resources, you can visit the Tarleton Wellness Center, Choices Clinic and Life Resources and Cross Timbers Pregnancy Care.

On Thursday September 9, 2021 it was announced that the United stated Department of Justice would be suing the State of Texas over SB 8. The justice made this decision after reviewing the time needed to most often detect pregnancy which is often more than six weeks of gestational age.

To learn more about this lawsuit you can go to: https://www.npr.org/2021/09/09/1035467999/justice-department-sues-texas-over-new-abortion-ban