Texas heartbeat bill signed into law... and there's a first-of-its-kind twist

Texas heartbeat bill signed into law... and there's a first-of-its-kind twist
AP Photo/Eric Gay

Governor Greg Abbott signed into law a fetal heartbeat law on Wednesday that includes an interesting twist or two. The bill bans abortion the moment a fetal heartbeat is detected. This can be as early as six weeks and often before many women even realize they are pregnant. The new law is set to go into effect on September 1. Legal challenges are all but guaranteed.


The new law is either landmark legislation in protecting the lives of the unborn or it is draconian in nature and offers the most extreme restrictions in the country, depending on your thoughts on abortion. There is a provision in the law that allows private citizens to file civil lawsuits against abortion providers as well as those who “aid or abet” the procedure in violation of the ban. There are exceptions in the new law – only for medical emergencies. Pregnancies that resulted from cases of rape or incest are not deemed as exceptions. And, “One amendment prevents a person who impregnated an abortion patient through rape, incest or sexual assault from bringing a lawsuit forward under this measure.”

There is even a little bipartisan support for the bill. One Democrat lawmaker from Brownsville attended the signing of the bill in support of it. Media members were not invited to the signing.

Abbott, who made his support of the bill clear before it received final approval, signed the proposal alongside Hughes, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and Rep. Shelby Slawson, R-Stephenville, the House sponsor. They were joined by dozens of Republican lawmakers at the governor’s mansion, and Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr., D-Brownsville, a longtime abortion opponent.

“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 before signing the bill. “In Texas, we work to save those lives. That’s exactly what the Texas Legislature did this session.”

“The heartbeat bill is now law in the Lone Star State,” Abbott added.


Legal actions are usually taken against fetal heartbeat laws when signed into law and this one in Texas will find challengers, too. One hope of supporters is that the Texas version will have better luck than other states’ bills because of the provision that allows civil action instead of government enforcement. Anyone can file a civil lawsuit rather than a federal lawsuit.

Instead of having the government enforce the law, the bill turns the reins over to private citizens — who are newly empowered to sue abortion providers or anyone who helps someone get an abortion after a fetal heartbeat has been detected. The person would not have to be connected to someone who had an abortion or to a provider to sue.

Proponents of the new law hope to get around the legal challenges that have tied up abortion restrictions in the courts. While abortion providers typically sue the state to stop a restrictive abortion law from taking effect, there’s no state official enforcing Senate Bill 8 — so there’s no one to sue, the bill’s proponents say.

“It’s a very unique law and it’s a very clever law,” said Josh Blackman, a constitutional law professor at South Texas College of Law Houston. “Planned Parenthood can’t go to court and sue Attorney General [Ken] Paxton like they usually would because he has no role in enforcing the statute. They have to basically sit and wait to be sued.”

Legal experts have been divided on the strategy, and abortion rights advocates have said they plan to fight regardless.

Elisabeth Smith, chief counsel for state policy and advocacy at the Center for Reproductive Rights, which has represented abortion providers who have sued Texas officials, said it and other abortion rights organizations are “not going to let this six-week ban go unchallenged.”

Drucilla Tigner, policy and advocacy strategist of the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas, said the “governor’s swipe of a pen can’t change the Constitution.”


Insert your opinion here that Roe v Wade is unconstitutional and SCOTUS took an activist stance to “change the Constitution” with its ruling in 1973. Which is why the debate rages on 48 years later. Texas voters are divided on abortion, according to recent polling.

According to a University of Texas/Texas Tribune poll, 13% of Texan voters said abortion should never be permitted while 31% said state law should allow abortion only in cases of rape, incest or when the patient’s life is in danger. Thirty-eight percent of Texan voters said somebody who is pregnant “should always be able to obtain an abortion as a matter of personal choice.”

Polls from Gallup and Pew also reveal that 60% to 70% of Americans say they do not want to see Roe vs. Wade overturned. However, as The New York Times reported, less than 30% of Americans say that abortion should “generally be legal” in the second trimester, according to Gallup.

When Democrats say that Americans want abortion legal all the way until the time of delivery – as the Obama administration told us – remember that is a lie. The majority of Americans don’t want it legal after the first trimester.

Human Coalition Action, one of the largest organizations in the nation that opposes abortion, was present at the signing.

“What an honor to witness Gov. Abbott sign this historic heartbeat bill,” said Chelsey Youman, Texas legislative director for Human Coalition Action.

Youman added, “The governor’s signature boldly defends the defenseless today.”


Pro-abortion critics claim that the Texas law incentivizes people to file a lawsuit. One provision says people who win a lawsuit would be awarded at least $10,000 in addition to the attorney fees.

I’d like to see more specifics on the provision that allows anyone to be sued over aiding and abetting an abortion procedure. Does that include family members or a friend who drives a woman to the clinic? It is likely a move to keep abortion clinics and their doctors tied up in court and having to use their financial resources to defend themselves rather than punish someone providing transportation to and from the abortion clinic.

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