Texas is rapidly establishing itself as the anti-science, anti-trans, anti-women and anti-vaccine capital of America. A raft of new legislation has been passed by Gov Greg Abbott in the last few months. Abbott is the public face of a new conservative Texas that harkens back to the dark ages. In contrast to his earlier public Twitter statement that Texans should be responsible for their own health, not the government, Abbott was clearly referring to men, not, as he clearly perceives them, the lesser citizens of Texas.
One can now legitimately ask the question, “what’s next”. An assault on women’s right to the vote? Ridiculous you say, but wait. Until last week women had a semblance of control over their lives, their health, and their bodies. Greg Abbott has undone that in a move that’s left Texas with the most restrictive abortion laws in the US.
The Texas abortion bill is known as S.B. 8, and is described as a “heartbeat ban” abortion measure. It prohibits abortion the moment a fetal heartbeat has been detected. By banning abortion after the six-week mark, many women in Texas who are not even aware they are pregnant will not be allowed to get the procedure done in the state. The bill, which goes into effect Sept. 1, does not include exceptions for women impregnated as a result of rape or incest but offers a provision for medical emergencies.
Let’s examine a primary point of this bill from a medical perspective. The heartbeat the bill refers to is in fact not an actual heartbeat. This early in the pregnancy there is not a fully formed heart, it hasn’t developed yet (usually at the end of week 7) and what the instruments are detecting is an electrical signal that will be replaced with a heartbeat. It’s a simplified explanation, and the graphic below of a six-week fetus should help you understand this better.
This signal can actually be picked up as early as the 4th week of pregnancy and the fetal heart differs from the heart of the newborn. Our heart adapts to life outside of the womb after we’re born, as the fetus relies on its mother’s lungs rather than its own, so there are fundamental structural differences in a fetal and newborn heart. Which is neither here nor there. It’s just so we are all on the same page relating to actual science.
What is actually at issue here are two things. The health, both mental and physical, of the mother and the right to life of the fetus which we’ll address first. If you are going to view life as sacrosanct and its importance all-consuming, then even allowing a six-week window to terminate that life seems ridiculous. The number of weeks is arbitrary, life is life, whether it’s snuffed out at 6 days, 6 weeks, or 6 months and if you truly believe in its value, you aren’t going to be negotiating time spans.
Which suggests this isn’t really about a right to life. Not really. This is more about politics and Governor Abbott’s conservative view of life and potential aspirations for a presidential run. How? Well, off the back of a Supreme court action contesting S.B. 8. It is crafty, clever, and manipulative politicking at the expense of public health.
The legislation may also simply be a reflection of the sexist views of Abbott and his party. A women’s ability to terminate the progeny of a man makes him vulnerable. The solution is simple. Remove her right to choose.
The S.B. 8 abortion law is going to have a number of dire consequences for women in Texas.
- The bill discriminates against lower-income families, women who enjoy financial resources can travel out of state to abort, not an option for those without the budget to travel freely.
- An upsurge in illegal and dangerous backstreet abortion clinics, placing pregnant mothers’ health in grave jeopardy. Mothers who would need further medical attention may be subject to prosecution.
- Pregnancies resulting from rape and incest that are forced to term by law will place the mother’s mental health at grave risk and lead to unwanted children.
- Genetic abnormalities discovered further into the pregnancy will not entitle the mother to consider an abortion under the current legislation.
Essentially, the message this new legislation sends to women across Texas is a stark one. Governor Greg Abbott and his conservative governance have little regard for your health and for your rights to choice. Your abilities to make an informed decision about your body have been seriously undermined.
The structure of the bill allows for anyone assisting the mother to abort the fetus after the six-week period to be prosecuted. In theory, if you’re driving your wife or partner across state lines for the purposes of obtaining an abortion you could be arrested and prosecuted. If a teenage boy gets his girlfriend pregnant and an abortion is carried out, either set of parents would have cause to file a civil complaint against anyone involved in enabling the abortion.
According to the Washington Post, the Supreme Court announced this week that it will review a similar restrictive Mississippi law that bans most abortions after 15 weeks, potentially providing a clear path to diminishing Roe v. Wade’s guaranteeof a woman’s right to choose an abortion. At a six-week restriction, Texas must surely follow on the heels of the Mississippi review.
Mississippi and Texas are among many Republican-led states to have passed restrictions conflicting with the Supreme Court’s precedents protecting abortion rights, hoping for a chance to get a case before a Supreme Court they believe is more amenable to their arguments.
The Supreme Court said on Monday that it would examine whether “all pre-viability prohibitions on elective abortions are unconstitutional.” Women across the country are going to be watching the outcome very closely.