Officially having gone into effect on September 1, 2021, the new Texas abortion law, named the Texas Heartbeat Act, banned abortion past six weeks of pregnancy. More specifically, the act banned abortion once cardiac activity can be detected, which occurs arounds six weeks into pregenancy. The law allows for no exception for rape or incest, or if the pregnant person is a teenager. The only way to escape the ban is if the pregnancy causes severe health concerns of the pregnant person and may lead to death or substantial damage to body functions.
With the passage of this law, many pregnant people seeking abortion services will no longer be offered the service, as healthcare providers will be extremely cautious about the narrowly defined exceptions. The vast majority of pregnant people needing abortion will face severe trouble, and several populations are especially vulnerable.
First, doctors define the start of a pregnancy as the start date of the last menstrual period, but some people have irregular periods, and may not realize the possibility of being pregnant until after the six-week limit. Additionally, teenagers could be another vulnerable population, as the vast majority of teenagers did not plan to become pregnant and aren’t prepared to become responsible parents. Furthermore, victims of rape or incest, if not aware of their pregnancy in time, will be forced to bear an unwanted child and face substantial consequences afterwards. Finally, another group of potential victims is the low-income population, where the birth of a child could worsen their financial situation and severely lower their living standards.
At this point, you may wonder: didn’t the Supreme Court case Roe v. Wade establish the rights to abortion? Yes, but the true answer to the question faces more complications. There are two roadblocks to challenging the constitutionality of this act: the unique implementation of the abortion law and the composition of the current Supreme Court.
In fact, Texas isn’t the first state to attempt to pass laws restricting abortion, but they are all held up due to legality challenges hindering successful implementation. The Texas Heartbeat Act went around these court challenges by replacing the traditional execution by state officials with a novel form of enforcement by individuals. In the past, if an abortion law was to be challenged in the Supreme Court, a state official executing the law would be sued as the defendant, but the Texas Heartbeat Act prevented this case from happening – it is uniquely implemented by encouraging individuals to sue anyone who helped or encouraged a pregnant person to abort past six weeks, and the individual doesn’t have to be related to this person. If successful, the plaintiff receives a $10,000 reward, and all legal fees are paid for. As a result, it is very difficult to even bring this case to the Supreme Court, as a suitable defendant is not easily found.
On September 1, 2021, in a case challenging the Texas Heartbeat Act, the Supreme Court refused to strike it down for constitutionality concerns with a 5-4 vote. The current structure of the Supreme Court could be part of the explanation, as it is dominated by Conservatives with a 6 to 3 majority. However, the Supreme Court did not settle the issue to completely reject further challenges, and future cases challenging the act can still be brought up to the Supreme Court, but that will be increasingly difficult. What is the future of this law and the population it affects? Lawsuit in itself is a lengthy and complicated process, not to mention the complexity of this issue at hand. What are the implications? Only time will tell.