Texas Anti-Abortion Bill Would Allow Any Private Citizen To File Civil Lawsuits Against Abortion Providers

Illustration for article titled Texas Anti-Abortion Bill Would Allow Any Private Citizen To File Civil Lawsuits Against Abortion Providers
Photo: Eric Gay (AP)

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 pregnancydespite 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.”

Freelance writer & night blogger at Jezebel. Lover of television, astrology, and sandwiches.



Sigh. It’s happening AGAIN. I gotta correct the author’s statement in the first paragraph that states:

“...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’.”

This phrasing makes it seem as if “experts are saying” that people who hear “heartbeat” sounds or see “heartbeat” movement on an ultrasound are actually only hearing or seeing some sort of machinery-induced artifact, and that they are not seeing any real physical phenomenon. The choice by the author of this article to use the words, “...likely just the machinery picking up on...” implies that what anyone viewing or listening to an ultrasound at 6 weeks of pregnancy sees or hears isn’t actually real.

Once again, Jezebel is fundamentally misunderstanding it’s own source material when it comes to science writing. If you follow the link in the quote above it clarifies that:

...state Rep. Donna Howard, D-Austin, in a floor debate cited medical experts who say there is no fully developed heart at that gestational age and that the sound referred to as a heartbeat is actually “electrically induced flickering” of fetal tissue.”

Medical experts are not in any way claiming that movement on an ultrasound or sounds heard during an ultrasound are not real, or an artifact of the ultrasound machine. They are merely making the point that a 6 week embryo does not have the tissue development at six weeks to have a “heart” so it is not medically accurate to refer to the movement of those cells as a “heartbeat”. They do indeed beat rhythmically, just like any heart cells do- even in a petri dish- if given the right mix of electrolytes/nutrients that mimic a live body. The movement is described as “cardiac motion” because it comes from cardiac tissue cells. You can see it and hear it at around 6 weeks if it has developed. Finding it is one way to identify the embryo at that point because it is so small. It is one way to measure how far along a pregnancy is.

To imply that this very real phenomenon is somehow “fake” is to gaslight the millions of healthcare providers and pregnant people around the world who see and/or hear cardiac motion during a six week ultrasound. Yes, that includes abortion providers and abortion seekers. Gaslighting those you claim to support is bullshit. So knock it the FUCK off, Jezebel. If you can’t write science articles, DON’T.

The implication from the author of this article that six week embryos do not actually have visible cardiac motion, thereby making the decision to terminate a pregnancy a “morally justifiable one” also perpetuates the false narrative put forth by anti-choice propagandists that the controversy around abortion is about when life begins. In fact, when or how or if “life” begins and whether it is “moral” to end said life is a moot point and all it does is distract from the real issue. There are no “moral” or “immoral” abortions. Just like there are no “moral” or “immoral” knee replacements. Abortion is one outcome of pregnancy, just like miscarriage or delivery. There are reasons people choose to do it, just like something like a knee replacement. They are irrelevant to anyone but that pregnant person, not even their abortion provider actually needs to know why someone requests abortion, they simply need to know that person is consenting of their own free will.

The real issue with abortion rights is who gets to decide what to do about that life or potential for life- the pregnant person themselves, or the government?

Focusing SOOOO much on if a “fEtUs iS a cLuMp oF cElLs” as a justification for access to safe abortion or “aBoRtIoN iS mUrDeR” as a justification for denying safe access to abortion distracts from the real issue- who gets to decide? Me, if I were pregnant; or the government? Nothing else is relevant.

Quit propping up the anti-choice nutjobs by perpetuating click-bait bullshit, Jezebel.  Heartbeat bills are bullshit for a million reasons, but it ain’t because there isn’t actually something moving in there.