Texas Enacts a Near-Total Ban on Abortions, Outlawing Them After 6 Weeks of Pregnancy

Many women don't even know they are pregnant by the six-week mark

Texas Governor Greg Abbott
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott. Photo: Lynda M. Gonzalez-Pool/Getty

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott signed one of the country's most restrictive abortion bans into law on Wednesday, prohibiting women from getting the procedure after six weeks of pregnancy.

The legislation, S.B. 8, is considered a near-total ban on abortions in the state, as women often are not aware that they are pregnant by the six-week mark. Often called a "heartbeat ban," the law is based on when the fetal heartbeat can first be detected, the earliest being six weeks into pregnancy.

The bill goes into effect Sept. 1, and does not allow exceptions for women who were impregnated as a result of rape or incest. There are considerations "if a physician believes a medical emergency exists." Under the bill, private citizens can also sue doctors or abortion clinic workers who perform or help to set up the procedure.

Abbott celebrated the bill on Wednesday while grossly exaggerating the number of abortions in the U.S.

"Our creator endowed us with the right to life and yet millions of children lose their right to life every year because of abortion," he said. "In Texas, we work to save those lives. And that's exactly what the Texas legislature did this session."

In fact, there were about 862,000 abortions in 2017, and they have declined by 19% since 2011.

The law is one of several now in place in Republican-led states that limit access to abortions and violate the terms of Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion. Anti-abortion groups have been vocal about enacting these near-bans to set up a legal battle in the hopes of overturning Roe v. Wade.

The chance of the Supreme Court limiting Roe v. Wade is more likely after Monday, when the Court said that it would hear arguments on a case from Mississippi, where lawmakers banned most abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy. With a conservative majority now on the Supreme Court, its decision on the case could reduce access to abortions in the U.S. The justices said they would look at whether "all pre-viability prohibitions on elective abortions are unconstitutional."

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Democrats and abortion rights advocates slammed the new law, with Drucilla Tigner, a policy and advocacy strategist at the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas, telling the Austin American-Statesman that it's "the most extreme abortion ban in the country."

Dyana Limon-Mercado, the executive director of Planned Parenthood Texas Votes, emphasized in a statement that most women will not yet know they're pregnant before they are restricted from an abortion.

"For a person with a normal menstrual cycle, that is only two weeks after a missed period," she said. "When you factor in the time it takes to confirm a pregnancy, consider your options and make a decision, schedule an appointment and comply with all the restrictions politicians have already put in place for patients and providers, a six-week ban essentially bans abortion outright."

The American Civil Liberties Union of Texas said it would challenge the law in court. Christian D. Menefee, the chief civil lawyer for Harris County, Texas' largest, said the legislation is "morally reprehensible, unconstitutional, and nothing more than a blatant attempt to limit women's access to health care."

"I look forward to the courts invalidating this law, but it's embarrassing that we even got this far."

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