The latest development in the massive conservative attack on abortion access, the Texas bill that would ban abortions as early as six weeks passed the House on Thursday, and is expected to be signed into law by Texas Governor Greg Abbot any day now.
The bill, SB 8, is similar to the “heartbeat bills” that have been passed and then struck down by courts in other states, but proponents believe that the Texas legislation is written in a way that will make it more resistant to legal challenge. The broad language bans abortions after a fetal heartbeat can be detected without specifying a time frame, although the proponents have argued that could be as early as six weeks into pregnancy—despite expert claims that most embryos actually do not have a heartbeat at that stage and that what is often misconstrued as a heartbeat is likely just the machinery picking up on “electrically induced flickering”.
However, the aspect of the bill that really concerns abortion advocates is that it would allow any private citizen—including people who don’t even live in Texas—to file a civil lawsuit against abortion providers and anyone who helps a person get an abortion after that six-week time frame. This provision would apply to not only abortion funds and other organizations that support abortion seekers, but could even be extended to a person who offers to help their friend pay for an abortion or someone who offers a friend a ride to an abortion clinic. The Center for Reproductive Rights’s chief counsel for state policy Elisabeth Smith told Jezebel reporter Esther Wang that “this private right of action... would allow harassment and intimidation of providers, people who work in clinics, family members, and friends.”
Abortion rights advocates worry that the passage of this legislation in Texas will have implications for abortion rights battles across the country, as the anti-abortion movement in the state has historically been influential in introducing abortion restrictions that get picked up in other states. Over 200 doctors and nearly 400 lawyers reportedly sent letters to the Texas legislature begging them not to pass the legislation. “It’s unprecedented, there’s no question,” said the CEO of Texas-based abortion clinic Whole Woman’s Health Amy Hagstrom-Miller in an interview with The Daily Beast. “The idea that just anybody should be able to police a highly trained physician and their staff—that any Joe on the street can make that claim—is just totally shocking.”