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How The Texas “Heartbeat” Bill Is Backfiring On The Pro-Life Movement

On one hand, Texas’ S.B. 8 which banned abortions after six weeks is a resounding success for the pro-life movement. Abortions performed in the state are down by half. Before forced birth advocates celebrate, though, it appears as if people determined to exercise reproductive choice are adapting to the new normal. 

Six weeks is often before a person even knows that they are pregnant. It’s reasonable to assume that the purpose of S.B. 8 was to cut off access to abortion within a practical window of time and compel pregnant people to carry unwanted fetuses to term. That is assuredly happening, even as Texans flee the state to obtain their reproductive care elsewhere

What is also happening is that more and more people are flocking to the remaining reproductive healthcare providers earlier in their pregnancies. Sometimes, they even schedule appointments before they have a positive pregnancy test in order to beat the clock.

Caroline Kitchener at the Washington Post recently chronicled what is happening at Whole Women’s Health in Austin. Requests for appointments have greatly increased. More and more Texans are determined not to let the misguided law stop them.

It’s become something of a problem. Many healthcare staff that specializes in reproductive medicine have left the industry in Texas for fear of the law’s $10,000 bounty on those who help people obtain abortions. Whole Women’s and other providers are down to a skeleton crew and wait times can reach two weeks. With so short a timeframe to have an abortion, it’s a race against time. That’s why clinics are now scrambling to hire more people to handle the load, even as taking on staff with further abortion ruling imminent at the Supreme Court.

Even crisis pregnancy centers, often religious fronts meant to talk people out of abortion, are seeing increases. Patients are desperately requesting ultrasounds to find out if they are under the six-week limit.

Another unexpected backlash from the law is in the realm of nomenclature. The law is erroneously referred to as a heartbeat bill because six weeks is supposedly when a fetus develops a heartbeat. This is medically untrue. What is present at six weeks is a small pole of tissue that does not yet even remotely resemble a human heart pumping blood.

This important distinction is beginning to have more and more medical authorities pushing back against pro-life’s liberal interpretation of what constitutes human life. 

“What you see and hear on an early ultrasound is embryonic activity — electrical currents being sent through cells that will develop at a much later time into a heart,” Dr. Gabriela Aguilar, an obstetrician-gynecologist and a former fellow with Physicians for Reproductive Health, told the New York Times

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists even went before the U.S. Senate in September to tell a committee that the belief that cardiac activity at six weeks represents a heartbeat is simply wrong. Doctors are also pushing back against Texas Health and Human Service pamphlets that push debunked forced birth talking points such as abortion leading to more breast cancer.

As the right to an abortion becomes further jeopardized, opposition to the Texas law responds by getting more organized and mainstream. It’s possible that all S.B. 8 will do in the end is wake a sleeping giant of reproductive freedom sentiment.

Jef Rouner
Jef Rouner
Jef Rouner is an award-winning freelance journalist, the author of The Rook Circle, and a member of The Black Math Experiment. He lives in Houston where he spends most of his time investigating corruption and strange happenings. Jef has written for Houston Press, Free Press Houston, and Houston Chronicle.


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