Are abortion bans the new gateway drug?
Still high off their victory in passing a law that bans the procedure after 20 weeks of pregnancy, Texas Republicans turned to an even harder restriction: banning abortion at the sound of a fetal heartbeat, which usually can be detected at six weeks.
Republican state Reps. Phil King, Dan Flynn, and Geanie Morrison introduced HB 59, otherwise known as the “fetal heartbeat” bill, just hours after Texas Gov. Rick Perry on Thursday signed into law some of the toughest regulations on reproductive rights in the country. The Lone Star State now bans abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy, requires abortions to be performed in ambulatory surgical centers, mandates that abortion providers secure admitting privileges at hospitals within 30 miles, requires doctors to administer abortion-inducing drugs in person, and imposes new building standards for clinics across the state.
But clearly, Texas lawmakers are still unsatisfied. State Rep. Harold Dutton, a Democrat who introduced a measure that would block further abortion restrictions until Texas abolishes the death penalty, said his colleagues across the aisle were dead set in seeing a challenge to Roe v. Wade make its way to the nation’s highest court.
“The principle out of Roe v. Wade obviously indicates that 24 weeks is the time period beyond which you cannot have an abortion,” said Dutton on msnbc Friday. “There are a number of people now trying to change that to maybe, perhaps six weeks. At some point, we’ve got to decide in this country whether or not we’re going to have abortions at all, and I suspect that’s going to come by virtue of a challenge [in] the U.S. Supreme Court.”
The text of the fetal heartbeat bill indicates that the six-week ban is a “trigger” provision, meaning it would not take effect unless Roe v. Wade is overturned. According to NARAL Pro-choice America, four states currently have so-called “trigger” laws that would impose near-total criminal bans on abortion should the Supreme Court upend the landmark 1973 decision.
The Texas Legislature has until July 31 to pass the fetal heartbeat bill through its special session, invoked by Perry after state Rep. Wendy Davis originally thwarted the 20-week ban with her day-long filibuster. Despite scores of protesters who demonstrated against the new law, a majority of Texans actually support it, found a recent University of Texas/Texas Tribune poll.
The measure proposed Thursday, however, is far more extreme. In addition to criminalizing abortions at the six-week mark, “heartbeat” bills also require women to undergo invasive, typically transvaginal ultrasounds in order to detect a fetal heartbeat at that stage of pregnancy.
North Dakota is currently the only state in the country to have adopted a six-week abortion ban. Fargo’s Red River Women’s Clinic filed a federal challenge to the law last month.