AUSTIN, Texas — If Senate Bill 8 passes, women would not be able to seek an abortion after a fetal heartbeat has been detected, which could come as soon as six weeks into a pregnancy.
That bill is just one of five approved by the Texas Senate that restricts access to abortion, including a priority measure that could ban abortions before many women know they are pregnant.
The would-be laws, which abortion rights advocates call some of the most extreme nationwide, were among the earliest bills debated by the full Senate. That body’s presiding officer, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, has given two abortion proposals top billing this session. The bills were passed 19-12. They must still be approved by the House before becoming law.
Dozens of abortion-related measures have been filed this legislative session, including one that would open up abortion providers to criminal charges that carry the death penalty. Anti-abortion activists have urged lawmakers to challenge the Roe v. Wade decision, citing the new conservative makeup of the U.S. Supreme Court. Nearly every Republican in the Senate has signed on as an author of SB 8, one of Patrick’s priorities, as has Brownsville Democrat Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr., who said during a debate last month that he believes life begins at conception.
SB 8 would also allow anyone in Texas to sue an abortion provider if they believe the provider violated state laws, regardless of whether they had a connection to someone who had an abortion or to the provider. A person who knowingly “aids or abets” others getting abortions prohibited under state law could also be hit with lawsuits, according to a bill draft.
Similar “heartbeat bills” have been passed in other states but have been blocked by the courts.
Republican State Sen. Bryan Hughes is the lead author of SB 8. He said the legislation’s language will allow it to be upheld. The law is intended to “protect our most vulnerable Texans when the heartbeat is present,” he said in a debate on the Senate floor.
“We're setting loose an army of people to go sue somebody under a bill that will likely be held unconstitutional,” state Sen. Nathan Johnson, D-Dallas, said during a debate about the bill. “They could be sued over and over and over again having to pay $10,000,” which is the minimum proposed damages in the bill.
Another proposed bill, Senate Bill 9, would ban nearly all abortions if the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the Roe v. Wade decision or otherwise altered abortion laws. It would create a possible fine of $100,000 for doctors who perform abortions after the law goes into effect. Houston Democratic Senator Carol Alvarado noted the fine for sexual assault in Texas has a $10,000 maximum.
A sixth abortion-related bill advanced two weeks ago would require a contractor to offer counseling and other resources to a person seeking an abortion. That person would receive a pin to verify she received the offer, and the pin would then be destroyed, said Paxton, the bill’s author. Earlier bill drafts said the woman would get an identifying number that would be stored in a state database.
Austin Democrat Sen. Sarah Eckhardt asked what services the women would be referred to — pointing to how poor most parents must be to qualify for Medicaid in Texas. A parent with one child would need to make less than $200 a month to qualify, the strictest criteria of any state, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.
Reproductive rights groups said seven Senate bills, including those mentioned above, are unconstitutional, would invite an avalanche of lawsuits, and have a profoundly negative impact on woman’s health in Texas.
- SB 9/HB 1280: This “trigger ban” would make abortion illegal in Texas, with few exceptions, if Roe v. Wade is overturned, while also subjecting physicians to criminal, civil and disciplinary penalties for abortion care provided before the bill goes into effect.
- SB 394/ HB 2337: This bill restricts the evidence-based provision of medical abortion by preventing physicians from following the standard of care when providing medical abortion. Mifepristone, the medication used in a medical abortion, is already subject to FDA restrictions and has a proven global safety record of nearly three decades.
- SB 802/HB 2313: This proposed measure violates the privacy of Texans by creating a record and two-factor authentication of people seeking abortions and forcing them to reveal their medical decisions to unlicensed state vendors who are not their healthcare providers.
- SB 1173/HB 3218: This bill bans abortion based on a person’s private decision-making and alleged reason for having an abortion, and forces people to carry nonviable pregnancies against their will.
- SB 1647/HB 3760: This bill is an omnibus piece of legislation that adds additional restrictions and hurdles for both patients and medical professionals.
- SB 650/HB 1173: This proposed law would prohibit a governmental entity from providing support services for people seeking abortion care.
Last week, State Rep. Donna Howard filed the Abortion is Health Care Act (HB 4389) with the goal of removing medically unnecessary abortion restrictions in Texas. Despite what has turned into what critics are characterizing as an incredibly hostile legislative session against abortion rights, the Abortion is Health Care Act would expand and protect abortion in the state instead of further restricting it.
“I am proud to author the Abortion is Health Care Act which repeals unnecessary and burdensome restrictions on Texans seeking abortion care,” Howard said. “These restrictions disproportionately impact vulnerable and marginalized communities and it is far past time for Texas to take a stand. For too long, we have allowed partisan politics to interfere with a person’s right to seek medical care and that must end. The Abortion is Health Care Act will ensure all Texans have access to safe medically necessary abortion care.”
The Trust Respect Access coalition, a group of grassroots organizers including Planned Parenthood and The ACLU of Texas, said they are seeking to create a Texas where everyone — regardless of their age, income, zip code, gender identity, immigration status, or whether they are incarcerated or detained — has access to all reproductive health care options, including abortion.
“For too long now, politicians have used lies and misinformation to pass burdensome, medically unnecessary laws that are simply designed to shut down clinics and shame and punish those who seek an abortion,” said Val Benavidez, president of the Texas Freedom Network, one of the coalition’s members. “Passage of the Abortion is Health Care Act would be a big step toward protecting the freedom of all Texans to make their own health care decisions, including whether or not to become a parent.”