Why the new Texas ‘heartbeat’ ban on abortion is problematic

You might have read in the news last week about a new law in Texas that bans women from accessing abortion services once a foetal heartbeat is detected. Of course, most people and laws agree or dictate that abortion no longer becomes an ethical option after a certain point in pregnancy, except in rare circumstances. So, why is this this law so controversial?

People are arguing that a ‘heartbeat’ can be detectible from about six weeks into pregnancy and that from then on a pregnancy should not be terminated. The problem with this is that ‘heartbeat’ is not a fair definition. This early in pregnancy, the embryo hasn’t formed into a foetus and doesn’t have a heart. The ultrasound is picking up an electrical signal known as a ‘flutter’ – but the embryo is no bigger than a grain of rice.

Most abortions are obtained after this point, and it makes sense. At six weeks, a person has only missed one period, and there can be other reasons why a period might be late. This new law also doesn’t offer any exemptions, including for cases of rape or incest. A 16-year-old girl – who cannot legally drink alcohol or vote – can be forced to carry her pregnancy to term, even if that pregnancy is the result of rape. And what’s more, this is a civil law that allows people to sue anyone who ‘aids’ another person in getting an abortion (and make up to $10,000 in the process, which will likely lead to vigilantism and bounty hunters seeking the payouts for informing on citizens attempting to control their own fertility).  

Here at SEA we tend to avoid politics and try to tread a middle ground with some of the more controversial areas of our work, and we understand that readers will have differing views on abortion. But we know from research and from history, that abortion bans don’t stop them from happening, they just stop them from happening safely. Only those with the time and money to travel interstate will be able to access safe abortiona, and we see this law as a step backwards in women’s rights. It is disempowering that in 2021, parts of the world are taking such retrograde action to control women’s (and AFAB people who may not identify as women) bodies in this way.

**UPDATE**

The Biden administration are now suing Texas, trying to block the enforcement of this new law. He’s sited the new law as a ‘constitutional chaos’. We’ll see which government wins out.

Further reading:

AP News

Healthline

The Guardian