The Texas Heartbeat Act
Writer: Veronica Yung
Editor: Reneta Daou
Graphic Designer: Maulina Gheananta, Pat Sevikul
The ‘Heartbeat Act,’ which is a law in Texas banning abortions after the first 6 weeks of pregnancy, was signed in May 2021 by Governor Greg Abbott and has taken effect recently this September. Exceptions are granted for medical emergencies, but rape and incest are not valid reasons for an exception. The law is called the ‘Heartbeat Act’ as it is based on the idea that an ultrasound can detect a heartbeat at six weeks. However, calling it a heartbeat is misleading, as what the ultrasound detects is a ‘portion of fetal tissue that will become the heart as the embryo develops,’ according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists.
Limiting the time frame abortions are permitted is not the only regulation in the Act. Any member of the public, even people with no connection to the person getting an abortion, can sue up to $10,000 in damages in a civil court against anyone involved in the abortion process. This includes providers, doctors, the patient, and anyone who aided the abortion. This means the law is enforced by private citizens, which means it cannot be changed unless someone affected sues the government.
The Supreme Court has refused to block this law from being put in place, although it has been condemned by President Joe Biden. This law even goes against Roe v. Wade.
Roe v. Wade was a 1973 Supreme Court ruling that legalised abortion in the USA by a 7 to 2 majority, as it was found that the right to abortion came under the freedom of personal choice in the 17th Amendment of the Constitution. The case is a result of Norma McCorvey, who used the pseudonym Jane Roe, who challenged laws against abortion in Texas. The case was first filed in 1969 after she had been raped, and in 1973 she made an appeal to the supreme court. The win meant that pregnant people were allowed to get abortions during the first trimester, or the first three months, and in some cases the second trimester.
This law has an immense impact on women and anyone AFAB, as most people find out they are pregnant after the first six weeks of pregnancy, as it is difficult to detect pregnancy within the time frame. Being six weeks pregnant is only two weeks late on an average menstrual cycle, and if a person has a long cycle or irregular periods, six weeks in between periods can be perfectly normal. According to Amy Hagstrom Miller, the head of Whole Woman’s Health clinic, 90% of those who seek their services are over six weeks pregnant. This means that seeking an abortion legally in Texas is virtually impossible, would mean further financial stress (if the reason for getting an abortion is financial), and could cause further psychological effects to those who are pregnant as a result of rape and/or incest.
According to Dr. Moayedi, a Texas abortion provider and OB-GYN, the law will disproportionately affect Black and Latine communities ‘who are already most at risk from logistical and financial barriers.’ Even before the law came into place, the time between finding out about a pregnancy and finding funds to pay for the abortion is too small; other problems also arise from possibility living far away from abortion facilities as it could be hard to take time off work.
This ruling also comes right before another abortion rights case in Mississippi. The lower courts had blocked a law which would ban most abortions after 15 weeks, but the Supreme Court is to decide in October whether Roe v. Wade should be overturned in order to pass this law.
Many people have been trying to cross state lines in order to access abortions, although travelling out of state is estimated to be around 99-319 km or 12-248 miles. However, there are financial barriers to this, such as money to travel, a place to stay, and to pay for the procedure. For people of lower income, it might also be hard to take time off work or access childcare if they already have children. In addition, many abortion clinics are fully booked. An example would be in Albuquerque, New Mexico. The day before the enactment of the law, all patients who booked an appointment were Texans, and by Thursdays, all clinics in the city were fully booked for weeks.
To help, consider donating to these organisations:
ActBlue, which splits your donation between different organisations fighting the abortion ban and those giving money to help fund abortions.
Fund Texas Choice, which provides funds for lodging and transportation to abortion clinics in and out of state.
Jane’s Due Process, which helps young people with parental-consent laws and provides access to abortions and birth control. They also provide free legal support for case management.
Whole Woman’s Health, an independent abortion provider that has clinics across north and central Texas and provides services to Whole Woman’s Health Alliance, who are in the process of opening abortion clinics in parts of the USA most impacted by anti-abortion laws.
There are more places to donate in this article from The Strategist.
Another way to help, if you are Texan, is to vote against Greg Abbott in the 2022 Texas gubernatorial election on November 8, 2022, if eligible.
This law is terrifying to live under, as not having access to abortion can push people further into poverty and increase any psychological distress caused by the pregnancy. People have also been drawing parallels to the fictional world of Gilead in Margaret Atwood’s ‘The Handmaid’s Tale,’ where women completely lose their rights and bodily autonomy.
Society has taken many steps forwards in the area of women’s rights, however, the ‘Heartbeat Act’ is a huge step back.