By Kaitlyn McCormick
On Sept. 1, Texas’ Senate Bill 8 (SB8), also known as the “Texas Heartbeat Act,” went into effect, banning most abortion access past the six-week marker. In a close 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court refused to block the Texas law, with 3 of 5 votes in favor of upholding from Trump-appointed judges. Chief Justice John G. Roberts joined the court’s three liberal judges in dissent.
This decision and its aftermath has led to deserved outrage not only in Texas, but across the country due to its severe restrictions as well as its unprecedented nature following prior Supreme Court decisions regarding abortion access and reproductive health. SB8 calls for a ban on abortions past detection of cardiac activity, typically occurring around the six-week point in a pregnancy.
The law reads, “A physician may not knowingly perform or induce an abortion on a pregnant woman if the physician detected a fetal heartbeat for the unborn child.”
This law directly works against the precedent set by Roe v. Wade in 1973, where the Court established that states could not strictly regulate abortion access before the viability of a fetus, which, according to the National Library of Medicine, is around 24 weeks of gestation.
Dissenting Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote in her opinion that the Texas law was “enacted in disregard of the court’s precedents through procedural entanglements of the state’s own creation.”
A pregnancy is not viable at six weeks, and is technically not even advanced enough to be referred to as a fetus, because the development is still in the embryonic stage. In reality, six weeks of pregnancy is only a mere two weeks after someone has missed their period. This means that most people with a uterus would not even realize they are pregnant before their abortion access has been ripped away from them.
This blurred line caused by inaccuracies, like calling an embryo a fetus, making the developmental stage seem further along or referring to that embryo as having a ‘heartbeat’ adds to the convolution surrounding abortion and reproductive rights. This emotionally charged rhetoric is dangerous because it presents a false interpretation of the scientific and biological happenings throughout various stages of pregnancy.
Quoted by NPR, Jennifer Kearns, OB-GYN, from the University of California San Francisco explains the inaccuracies of terms like ‘heartbeat’ when referencing early pregnancy, “What we’re really detecting is a grouping of cells that are initiating some electrical activity … In no way is this detecting a functional cardiovascular system or a functional heart.”
The blatant disregard of the Supreme Court’s past decisions and restriction of reproductive rights for cisgender women and other persons with uteruses are disgustingly not the only concerning facets of SB8. The law allows for Texas residents to sue any clinic, doctor, clergy-member, driver or support system that aids in a person receiving an abortion after six weeks for a $10,000 incentive.
This allowance is extremely dangerous and will most definitely put pregnant people at risk. Justice Sotomayor stated in her dissent that the lawmakers in Texas have “deputized the state’s citizens as bounty hunters, offering them cash prizes for civilly prosecuting their neighbors’ medical procedures.” SB8 has incorporated fear tactics into its harsh grasp on reproductive freedom, and the results have the potential to be catastrophic. The expected legal fees concerning these lawsuits are also meant to hinder abortion providers financially.
The news from Texas only reinstills concern for abortion access across the country and the fear other conservative states will attempt to follow suit. This issue is especially prevalent as the Supreme Court is scheduled to hear Dobbs v. Jackson in October, a case that questions the constitutionality of abortion as a whole, and how that standard influences a state’s rights to rule on reproductive freedoms. News coming out of Texas this week only sheds a slight light on the never-ending war on reproductive rights in America.
Sophomore English & journalism major
Originally published in the 9/8/21 issue