The Texas Legislature is close to banning abortion as early as six weeks after conception. Versions of the so-called fetal heartbeat bill have passed the House and Senate, and are headed to a conference committee before reaching to the governor’s desk.
Andrea Zelinski reports on the Legislature for Texas Monthly. She tells Texas Standard that the bill would “effectively ban” abortions in Texas because many women do not know they are pregnant by six weeks. The Senate version of the bill doesn’t specify an exact time frame for when an abortion is legal or illegal, rather, it stipulates one can no longer occur at the point at which a fetal heartbeat can be detected. The Texas Tribune reports that “a legislative analysis and its proponents have said that can be as early as six weeks.” Other lawmakers disagree with that assessment. For context, morning sickness usually doesn’t start until at least six weeks after conception.
While several other states have “fetal heartbeat” laws, Zelinski says Texas’ bill is unique because it would allow anyone to sue a person they suspect of violating the law, including a physician or someone who is believed to have driven a woman to an appointment or paid for her abortion after the heartbeat can be detected.
“This really empowers people of Texas to enforce this law,” Zelinksi said. “Whoever sues doesn’t even have to know the woman or the other actors in this scenario. So this is a very novel element to this year’s approach to trying to ban abortion.”
If signed into law, it will most certainly be challenged in court, and join several other abortion-related lawsuits likely making their way to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Zelinski says the bill is part of a larger effort by conservative-leaning states to “chip away” at Roe v. Wade – the Supreme Court case that led to abortion becoming legal in the United States.
Zelinski says this bill flew under the radar for most of the session. But lawmakers had time to devote to it after a smoother-than-expected biennial budget process and a delayed redistricting process.
“I think everybody kind of relaxed and then realized, hey, we can go a lot further on social issues that we thought we would have time or energy to do,” she said.
Gov. Greg Abbott is expected to sign the bill into law if it passes out of conference committee.