Texas House passes bill banning abortion after 5-6 weeks of pregnancy

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On Wednesday, lawmakers in the Texas House voted 81-63 to preliminarily pass a bill that would ban abortion after several weeks of pregnancy. 

If passed into law, Senate Bill 8 would prevent a doctor from performing an abortion if they can detect a heartbeat in a fetus, effectively banning abortion after about five to six weeks of pregnancy when many women are often unaware they are pregnant. 

The bill would also allow anyone to sue a physician in civil court for performing an abortion, a detail in the bill that critics say would lead to frivolous lawsuits and abuse of the civil court system. Further, the bill even allows legal action against anyone who, “knowingly engages in conduct that aids or abets the performance or inducement of an abortion” — broad language that could include anyone from parents to health insurance companies. 

Rep. Donna Howard was the first opponent of the bill to speak. She cited a statement from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists that said that the “heartbeat” detected six weeks into gestation is not actually a heartbeat, but electrical signals that are audibly amplified by ultrasound heartbeat monitors. A heartbeat that can be heard with a stethoscope occurs much later at around 20 weeks of pregnancy, Howard said.

“This is the worst day of the session every single session,” Howard said, adding that women in Texas will continue to seek abortions despite restrictions sought by the state. 

Rep. Chris Turner attempted to ask bill sponsor Rep. Shelby Slawson about the relationship between maternal mortality and access to healthcare, as well as the relationship between access to contraceptives and unintended pregnancies.

“Would you agree that a lack of access to healthcare is one of the barriers to access to contraception?” Turner asked. 

“I’m not advised on that in relation to this bill,” Slawson said. 

Slawson would go on to deliver the same response to other basic questions from Turner, including, “does less access to contraception lead to more unintended pregnancies?” and “why does someone get an abortion?” — a clear line of questioning that would take the form of an amendment offered (and later withdrawn) by Rep. Harold Dutton Jr. that would require the state to pay healthcare and college tuition for children whose mothers were denied abortions.

“How are we protecting life when we attempt to criminalize homeliness?” asked Rep. Nicole Collier similarly. “How are we protecting life with the highest rate of uninsured children in the country? How are we protecting life when children go how hungry every day?”

Lawmakers will return this week to vote on the bill for a third and final time.

Photo: AFP / MANDEL NGAN via Getty Images

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