Among the hundreds of new laws that will highly impact Texans’ lives starting today, SB 8 or the “fetal heartbeat” sits in the ranking of the most noxious bills, as it now represents a real threat for women’s health and the wellbeing of their loved ones.
During the regular session of the legislature, lawmakers lowered the threshold for legal abortions to 6 weeks, mistakenly establishing the term. According to the bill authors, an ultrasound can detect a fetal heartbeat at 6 weeks, but medical experts have already pointed out that embryos do not even have a heart at such developmental stage.
Skirting the previously established limit set at 22-24 weeks by Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion in the country, the new limit would affect at least 85% of the abortions taking place in the state since many women don’t even know they are pregnant within the first six weeks.
However, additionally to the restrictiveness of the term, the state wouldn’t enforce the law. According to the Texas Tribune SB 8 instead provides enforcement only by private citizens who would sue abortion providers and anyone involved in aiding or abetting an abortion after a “heartbeat” is detected.
As reported by Slate, the measure allows any random stranger to bring a lawsuit in state court against any individual who “aids or abets” an abortion in Texas after six weeks. If the plaintiff wins, they collect a minimum of $10,000 plus attorneys’ fees and if they win a case against an abortion provider, the court must shut down that clinic.
SB 8 is not abiding to the precedents set by Roe v. Wade because it does not require state officials to enforce anti-abortion laws, it solely depends on individuals suing “abettors”. Also, SB 8 locks all litigation in state courts that are now obliged to ignore Roe, which makes it nearly impossible for any federal court to intervene.
The only way to have prevented the bill from taking effect and avoiding a massive health crisis for women in the State was a response from the Supreme Court to the emergency injunction requested by abortion providers against the bill.
But the Supreme Court’s silence, composed of a conservative 6–3 majority, gave a free pass to the Texan abortion ban.
Patients themselves are exempted from a suit, but their loved ones, including spouses, are not. Possible targets may include any person who encourages the abortion, including family members of the patient; rape crisis counselors, genetic counselors, and clergy; a friend who drives the patient to a clinic; donors to an abortion fund; and, of course, the clinic staff who facilitate the procedure.
All these individuals can be sued for at least $10,000 per abortion in any state court, and If people who have been sued do not defend themselves, the court must automatically rule against them.
Marva Sadler, senior director of clinical services at Whole Woman’s Health where they had over 100 patients waiting to undergo last-minute legal abortions, said the clinics will have to start turning patients away on Wednesday.
“We have staff and doctors providing abortions in Texas – still at this hour – and they are all in to provide care until 11:59 tonight. Our waiting rooms are filled with patients and their loved ones. Right now.” Tweeted Sadler.
“Whole Woman’s Health clinics will provide the full scope of abortion care services up until the minute this law takes effect. We urge the Supreme Court to protect patients’ health and allow us to continue providing the essential healthcare Texans deserve”. She added.
President Joe Biden heavily criticized Texas’ new abortion ban, saying it “blatantly violates the constitutional right established under Roe v. Wade” as he vowed his administration would fight to defend that right.