Written by Vedika Pathania, a second-year student.
Trigger Warning: Not for kids under 15…
Despite a 1973 Supreme Court ruling establishing a constitutional right to abortion, a Texas legislation prohibiting most abortions after roughly six weeks of pregnancy went into effect in the state, making the state the most restricted in the US in terms of abortion availability.
Similar laws have been enacted in other states, but they are being challenged in the courts. The law in Texas is the first to go into effect. The court refused to block the statute by a 5-4 majority. Because of the way the law was drafted, it may be tough to fight in court, signaling a significant shift in the struggle for abortion rights and encouraging other areas to follow suit.
Does the law mean a complete ban?
Once heart activity in the embryo is discovered, the law prohibits abortion. Around the sixth week of pregnancy, this happens. It’s quite early in pregnancy at that moment, and many women are unaware they’re pregnant. A woman would have roughly two weeks under Texas legislation to recognize her condition, confirm the pregnancy with a test, decide how to manage the pregnancy, and seek an abortion.
What does this ‘cardiac activity’ mean?
The ultrasound-detected cardiac activity is not a genuine heartbeat. It is caused by electrical activity, although the heart valves have not yet developed. According to experts, the sound does not signify that the pregnancy is viable.
Does the law make space for exceptions?
There are no exceptions to the law for unwanted pregnancy. It does permit abortions for medical reasons, but only in limited circumstances, such as when the pregnancy poses a threat to the mother’s life or causes “severe and permanent impairment of a key physiological function.”
Is Texas now home to the nation’s most restrictive abortion law?
Other states, such as Georgia, Mississippi, Kentucky, and Ohio, have enacted “heartbeat” legislation prohibiting abortion if the cardiac activity is discovered on an ultrasound exam. These laws would also prohibit abortions at around six weeks of pregnancy, 18 weeks earlier than the legal norm established by Roe v. Wade, which allows abortions up to 24 weeks, around the period at which a foetus may live outside the womb.
(Roe v. Wade, 410 U.S. 113, was a historic Supreme Court case in which the Court declared that a pregnant woman’s right to choose whether or not to have an abortion is protected by the Constitution of the United States without undue government interference.)
This state legislation, however, has been stalled due to legal challenges and has yet to be enacted. According to Texas abortion clinics, 85% of patients seeking abortions are at least six weeks pregnant and would be denied service under the new state legislation.
How does the Texas law differ from other state laws intending to prohibit abortion during pregnancy?
The main distinction is the mechanism for enforcing the law. The Texas legislation is based on citizens bringing lawsuits against abortion providers for alleged breaches. It permits any private individual to sue Texas abortion providers who break the law, as well as anybody who “aids or abets” a woman having an abortion. Patients who have had abortions, on the other hand, cannot be sued. If the case is successful, the person who filed it — who does not have to be related to the woman who had the abortion — is entitled to at least $10,000 in damages. The state’s largest anti-abortion organisation, Texas Right to Life, has created a website to accept information about potential breaches and claims it has attorneys ready to file cases.
Other states attempted to enforce these laws by government actions such as criminal prosecution against abortion providers.
Who will be the most impacted by the Texas legislation?
Texas has 7 million women of reproductive age, and the bill will make it more difficult for them all to access abortions in the state, as intended by the legislators.
However, abortion providers claim that the proposal will create virtually insurmountable barriers for many vulnerable groups. Teenagers, who often don’t know they’re pregnant until later in the pregnancy; low-income individuals, who must come up with $550 to fund the surgery; persons of colour; and undocumented immigrants are among them. The law does not define what constitutes a medical emergency, limiting access to safe abortions because it is up to the healthcare practitioner to determine whether or not the circumstance is a medical emergency. This implies that non-medical abortions are only available outside of Texas. For those who cannot afford to go outside of the state, this presents a barrier.
Since the Supreme Court’s ruling, the new legislation has been the subject of intense public criticism, with many professionals and prominent personalities arguing that what is legally defined as “6 weeks of pregnancy” is far too early for most individuals to even recognise they are pregnant. Moreover, this sets us back decades, takes women back to the fight for autonomy over themselves, and back to the struggle for abortion rights.
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