On Wednesday, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott signed into law a "heartbeat ban" that would prohibit providers from performing abortions once a fetal heartbeat was detected, which can occur as early as six weeks into a pregnancy — early enough that many people may not even know they're pregnant yet — with no exception for rape or incest cases. This is one of the most extreme anti-abortion measures we've seen in the United States. According to The Guardian, 370 licensed attorneys and 200 physicians across Texas have condemned the legislation.
"Our creator endowed us with the right to life and yet millions of children lose their right to life every year because of abortion," Abbott said in a bill signing ceremony, which was broadcast to Facebook Live. He said that the Legislature "worked together on a bipartisan basis to pass a bill that I'm about to sign that ensures that the life of every unborn child who has a heartbeat will be saved from the ravages of abortion."
The measure, called Senate Bill 8, also allows any private citizen the ability to sue abortion providers and anyone who helps someone get an abortion — they don't even have to have a connection with the patient.
"That means the friend who drove the patient to the clinic, or the abortion fund that provided financial assistance to the patient [can be sued]," explains Elisabeth Smith, chief counsel of state policy at the Center for Reproductive Rights. "We are currently considering all legal options to prevent this draconian law from ever taking effect."
Smith calls the law outrageous, saying that it makes a mockery out of our legal system. "Texas is inviting anti-abortion protestors to police abortion clinics and harass providers, even though the state knows that these kind of bans are unconstitutional," she tells Refinery29. "Anti-abortion activists will have the ability to sue doctors and clinic staff for providing abortion care. The goal of this law is to saddle doctors and clinics with so many lawsuits that they have no resources left to stay open."
Just yesterday, Abbott tweeted, "Texans, not the gov't, should decide their best health practices" after prohibiting mask mandates in the name of bodily autonomy. Commenters were quick to call out the governor's hypocritical actions. "In recognition of their right to bodily autonomy, Texas will not require the women it is forcing to give birth to wear a mask," tweeted reporter Julia Carrie Wong.
The right to an abortion in the United States is being jeopardized by these actions. This measure comes right at the heels of the Supreme Court agreeing to hearing a challenge to a Mississippi law that bans almost all abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy — a direct challenge to Roe v. Wade, which gives the Conservative-majority bench an opportunity to overturn the historic ruling that legalized abortion in the United States.
Access to abortion care is already hard to get, and deeply inequitable. To directly combat the unconstitutional law, abortion activists are calling for supporters to donate to Texas abortion funds like Buckle Bunnies Fund. You can also head to the National Network Of Abortion Funds to see what other funds need your help.
"It’s important to recognize these laws are part of a broader pattern that has seen over 500 abortion restrictions passed in state legislatures since January of this year, including 165 bans," Rachel Fey, vice president of policy and strategic partnerships for Power To Decide, tells Refinery29. "Now states across the country are seeking to ban abortion care outright, and this Texas law is one more egregious example. Now more than ever, we need the Women’s Health Protection Act, which would safeguard against bans and restrictions like this."