Texas Governor Greg Abbot signed a “fetal heartbeat” abortion bill into law on Wednesday that bans abortions after a fetal heartbeat is detected and allows citizens to sue doctors who perform abortions after the limit.
A fetal heartbeat is often detected as early as six weeks after gestation, possibly before a woman even knows she is pregnant. Medical emergencies are an exception provided for in the bill, but the bill does not contain exceptions for pregnancies resulting from rape or incest.
A notable feature of the bill is that it gives citizens—even those unconnected to the abortion recipient or provider—the right to sue individuals who knowingly aid or abet the performance of an abortion that violates this new law. They can seek up to $10,000 in damages per defendant. Reportedly, this provision has been introduced in order to avoid legal challenges by transferring enforcement powers from the government to the individual. “While abortion providers typically sue the state to stop a restrictive abortion law from taking effect, there’s no state official enforcing Senate Bill 8—so there’s no one to sue,” says the Texas Tribune.
During the bill-signing ceremony, Abbott explained, “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.”
Elizabeth Nash of the pro-abortion rights Guttmacher Institute criticized the bill, asserting that, “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.”
Earlier in May, 200 Texas physicians signed an open letter expressing concern over the bill. “In addition to placing medically unnecessary restrictions on abortion, [the bill] will place physicians at risk of frivolous lawsuits that threaten our ability to provide healthcare,” the letter stated.
The new law will come into effect in September unless it is stopped in court. Nearly a dozen other states have passed similar “fetal heartbeat” abortion bills, but legal challenges have prevented any of the bills from taking effect. On Monday, the US Supreme Court agreed to hear Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Association, allowing the court to reconsider its Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey rulings and potentially resulting in an increase in state power to restrict abortions.