OPINION: New Texas abortion law, based on faulty reasoning and junk science, sets women’s right back by 50 years

Pro-choice+supporters+protest+the+new+Texas+abortion+law+that+went+into+effect+on+Sept.+21%2C+2021.

Pro-choice supporters protest the new Texas abortion law that went into effect on Sept. 21, 2021.

In the United States of America, abortion has always been and remains a heavily debated topic. However, it was thought that the matter had been legally settled with the Supreme Court’s ruling in the Roe v. Wade case on Jan. 22, 1973, in which the Court ruled that the U.S. Constitution guarantees a woman’s right to an abortion without excessive government restriction. 

The matter no longer seems to be settled, however, as Texas recently passed what can only be considered a very restrictive abortion law that all but bans the procedure, and the currently conservative Supreme Court ruled 5-4 against abortion advocacy groups that had asked the court to declare the laws unconstitutional. With that ruling, the Supreme Court has delivered a devastating blow to women’s rights, as now more states are preparing to pass restrictive abortion laws similar to those in Texas.

The decision as to whether to abort a pregnancy should be the individual woman’s choice, as it is a difficult, multi-layered decision that most women agonize over when faced with that dilemma. The reasons a woman may choose to abort a pregnancy can range from the the embryo being detected as having a debilitating or life threatening disease to the pregnancy being the result of a rape or incest to the woman just not having the financial wherewithal to even afford the medical costs of carrying a pregnancy to term, much less raise and properly support a child on her own. 

Texas’ new restrictive abortion law and the Supreme Court’s ruling backing the law cruelly and callously dismiss the many nuanced reasons that might compel a woman to chose to abort a pregnancy, and, more importantly, dismiss a woman’s right to have autonomy over her own body. 

The Texas law, Senate Bill 8 – sometimes referred to as the “heartbeat law” – was signed by Gov. Greg Abbott on May 19, 2021, and became effective on Sept. 21, 2021. According to Texas Monthly, the law allows any private citizen in Texas, or elsewhere, to sue anyone who performs an abortion or anyone in Texas. The law also allows a lawsuit against anyone who “aids and abets” or intends to aid or abet a woman get an abortion in Texas after the embryo’s heartbeat is detected.  Senate Bill 8 reaches outside Texas’ borders as The New York Times stated, “Residents of other states can sue someone who helps a Texan get an abortion.

Simply put, anyone performing an abortion and anyone assisting a woman obtain an abortion in Texas after what is generally the sixth week of pregnancy can be sued by everyone and anyone. However, the pregnant woman herself cannot be sued. This, and making the matter a civil offense instead of a criminal one is the Texas legislature’s disingenuous end run around Roe v. Wade. Still, the doctor who performs the abortion, the friends who pitch in to help pay for the procedure, even the Uber driver that drops the pregnant woman off at the doctor’s office can be sued. 

With the minimum statutory damage amount for a successful law suit being $10,000, Senate Bill 8 effectively turns citizens into bounty hunters looking for a payday by hunting down women who have had an abortion or intended to have an abortion after the sixth week of pregnancy and then suing everyone who assisted or intended to assist the woman. 

Senate Bill 8 also aims to prohibit compassionate people from assisting a woman who has made the agonizing decision to abort her pregnancy. It is meant to dissuade citizens from helping that woman out of fear of a lawsuit, for even if the lawsuit is unsuccessful, the citizen being sued still has to pay attorney and court fees with no avenue for recompense. 

Especially troubling is that Senate Bill 8 is based on two glaring instances of faulty reasoning, intended or not. The first is that most women who become pregnant do not know they are pregnant until after the sixth week of gestation when the embryo’s heartbeat can be detected. Once a woman suspects she is pregnant and visits a doctor, the odds are overwhelming that the heartbeat will be detected on the very first doctor’s visit. At this point, if the woman lives in Texas, it is too late for her to consider an abortion.

Abortion providers in Texas estimate that 85 to 90 percent of abortions occur after the woman has passed the six-week mark of her pregnancy. Most abortions are performed in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy (first trimester), although some states allow it up until the end of 27th week (second trimester). The embryo or fetus cannot survive outside the womb through the 27th week; therefore, it is not a viable life. 

The second, and probably most important misconception that Senate Bill 8 is based on is the concept of the fetal heartbeat itself. The term “fetal heartbeat” is misleading because medical science tells us that a fetal heartbeat does not exist at the sixth week of pregnancy. “Fetal heartbeat” is more of a legal term than a medical one.

When a physician uses a stethoscope to listen to an adult’s heart, the sound that is being evaluated is the opening and closing of cardiac valves. The sound referred to as a “fetal heartbeat” is generated by an ultrasound in an early pregnancy and is not the same. According to npr.org, “At six weeks of gestation, those valves don’t exist. The flickering that we’re seeing on the ultrasound that early in the development of the pregnancy is actually electrical activity, and the sound that you ‘hear’ is actually manufactured by the ultrasound machine.”

“That’s why the term ‘fetal heartbeat’ is pretty misleading,” Dr. Jennifer Kerns, an OB-GYN and associate professor at the University of California, San Francisco. told NPR. Doctors are really listening for a group of cells that create electrical activity. The “fetal heartbeat’ does not give doctors means of detecting a cardiovascular system or a functional heartbeat.

Additionally, Senate Bill 8 and others like it being considered in other states will most certainly force many women who are seeking to terminate a pregnancy to seek dangerous alternate means, as they did before Roe v. Wade. Those alternate means could include the “back alley” abortions that are performed by those with no medical license and little training, or women trying to abort the pregnancy themselves resulting in serious physical damage and even death.

Closer to home, the Texas law inspired Florida House Rep. Webster Barnaby to file HB 167, titled the “Florida Heartbeat Act,” on September 22, 2021. This bill would forbid a physician from performing an abortion “if the physician detected a fetal heartbeat for the unborn child.” The bill states that aiding and abetting an abortion includes paying for or reimbursing abortion costs via insurance or other methods, regardless if the person knew that the abortion violates the law. 

When Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis was asked about HB 167, he fumbled and gave an unintelligible response. However, the governor did say, “At the end of the day, government was instituted for certain reasons. To protect life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” according to floridapolitics.com. 

The governor chose to stick to speaking in generalities over directly addressing the topic at hand. Also, DeSantis said he is protecting values that the U.S. holds dear, yet he does not seem to care about the liberties he is taking from women.

DeSantis is a pro-life Republican and supports this bill and others like it, although he states that he does not want to turn people against each other. Many Republicans around the country argue “My body, my choice” when it comes to mandatory COVID-19 vaccinations and mask-wearing, yet when it comes to a woman’s right to choose, suddenly that credo no longer applies. It is no longer a woman’s body, a woman’s choice; it is now the government’s choice, or worse yet, in Texas, the woman’s neighbor’s choice.

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