Texas Anti-Abortion ‘Heartbeat’ Bill Gains Momentum

March 3, 2019 Updated: March 3, 2019

A Texas bill that would mostly ban abortion in the state after the point when the unborn baby’s heartbeat can be detected has been signed by more than 50 lawmakers, nudging it toward possibly passing the Republican-controlled legislature.

The bill would prohibit abortion under felony charges in cases where the medical practitioner detects a heartbeat in the fetus, or fails to check for a heartbeat, which can be found as early as the sixth week of pregnancy—as early as four weeks after conception and less than two weeks after the pregnant woman misses her period.

The bill (pdf) makes an exception for abortions performed due to medical emergencies.

“It ensures that unborn Texans exhibiting a heartbeat will be protected from an abortion,” said state Rep. Briscoe Cain, who introduced the bill on Feb. 7, in a tweet that day. “Texas should be the safest place in America for the unborn!”

Since then, 56 other representatives joined him as authors and coauthors—all Republicans, who hold an 87–63 majority in the State House and 19–12 majority in the state Senate.

The bill was denounced by abortion proponents as an attempt to ban abortion altogether.

The Lone Star State has been beaten to the punch on the issue by Mississippi, which has already passed a similar bill. Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant has vowed to sign it into law.

At least eight other states have similar bills underway at different stages in their legislatures. All the bills, including those in Texas and Mississippi, would likely be ruled unconstitutional by federal courts in light of the precedent set by the Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, which hamstrung states’ ability to restrict abortion.

Now that President Donald Trump has appointed two conservative justices to the Supreme Court—Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh—states may try to escalate legal challenges to abortion restrictions to the Supreme Court in the hope that the 5–4 conservative majority bench will reconsider Roe v. Wade.

Abortion is back in the media spotlight as several states controlled by Democrats push bills that would allow abortions all the way to birth, with limited constraints for very late-term abortions—an apparent effort to preserve easy access to abortion even if Roe v. Wade is overturned. New York already passed one such bill, which Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed into law on Jan. 22.

A similar law was proposed by Virginia state lawmaker Kathy Tran, causing a backlash, especially after Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam, a Democrat, responded by suggesting that parents should have the right to have their baby killed even after delivery in cases when the baby has “severe fetal abnormalities” or is deemed “nonviable.”

Americans appear to have shifted away from supporting abortion, especially younger Americans and Democrats. A Feb. 12–17 Marist Poll found that 47 percent of Americans identified as “pro-life,” meaning generally anti-abortion, while 47 percent identified as “pro-choice,” meaning generally pro-abortion. Just a month before, the poll showed “pro-choice” identification prevailing 55 to 38 percent.

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