Texas governor signs 'fetal heartbeat' abortion bill

Texas Gov. Greg AbbottGreg AbbottSupport for governors sliding in states without vaccine mandates: survey Sunday shows - Buttigieg warns supply chain issues could stretch to next year Arkansas governor backs employer vaccine mandates MORE (R) on Wednesday signed legislation that would ban virtually all abortions after a fetal heartbeat is detected, joining other Republican-led states that have set up legal challenges to the 1973 Supreme Court decision granting a woman’s right to seek an abortion.

The measure Abbott signed would allow most private citizens to sue an abortion provider if they suspect the provider has violated the new ban.

“Our creator endowed us with the right to life, and yet millions of children lose their right to life every year because of abortion. In Texas, we work to save those lives,” Abbott said in a private bill-signing ceremony Wednesday morning. 

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The new law will take effect at the beginning of September. Abortions would only be allowed before the presence of a fetal heartbeat is detected, which can occur as early as six weeks after a woman becomes pregnant.

The law makes exception for medical emergencies.

Federal courts have blocked similar bills passed in other states, beginning with North Dakota in 2016 and extending to Iowa, Kentucky and Mississippi in 2019.

But Texas legislators hope they have gotten around the federal objections by prohibiting public officials from enforcing the law. Instead, they will leave it up to private citizens to sue those abortion providers.

Abortion rights advocates said they were skeptical that a federal court would allow the state law to go ahead.

Elizabeth Nash, who heads state-level policy at the pro-abortion rights Guttmacher Institute, said the lawsuit provision was “uniquely cruel.”

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“By allowing anyone, anywhere to sue people involved in providing or obtaining an abortion, this ban would open the floodgates for frivolous lawsuits, bury clinics under court cases and legal fees, and make it difficult for providers to remain open,” Nash said in an email. “This ban in Texas is clearly about controlling pregnant people’s bodies and preventing them from making decisions about their lives and futures.” 

Under Abbott’s governorship, Texas has pursued some of the most aggressive anti-abortion-rights measures in the nation in recent years. Abbott and his predecessor, Rick PerryRick PerryRepublicans are the 21st-century Know-Nothing Party College football move rocks Texas legislature Trump tries to spin failed Texas endorsement: 'This was a win' MORE, signed 24 other measures restricting abortion in the last decade. 

The pace of anti-abortion legislation has increased in recent years as Republicans make gains in the federal judiciary. This year, 14 states have adopted 69 bills restricting abortions, including nine measures that would in effect ban all abortions from taking place. 

For years, conservatives have passed measures they know will be blocked by federal courts, in hopes of spurring a new challenge to Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 decision that opened the door to abortion access across the nation.

The Supreme Court said this week it would hear a challenge to a Mississippi ban on abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy. Abortion rights advocates fear that case, Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, could become the vehicle for the 6-3 conservative majority to roll back the rights guaranteed under Roe.