What has the law been in the past?
In 1973, the Supreme Court made a landmark decision in support of women’s rights, known as Roe v. Wade.
The ruling, which still stands today, protects women’s autonomy by allowing them the freedom to have an abortion without facing ‘excessive government restrictions.’
It was a monumental moment for women and a huge stepping stone in the fight for equality, specifically in terms of having governance over their own bodies and lives.
Under Roe v. Wade, women observed the right to terminate their pregnancy up until 22 to 24 weeks. As a standard practice, abortions are not allowed after this stage as the foetus is able to survive outside of the womb.
Why is the new law causing a stir?
Under Texas’ ‘Heartbeat Act’ abortions taking place after being pregnant for only six weeks will be illegal.
What is concerning is that most women do not yet know they are pregnant at such an early stage – so this window of opportunity in the event of an unwanted or unexpected pregnancy is likely to be missed.
Making matters worse, the basis of the law – which relies on the timing of a ‘detectable heartbeat’ – has been scrutinised by doctors at The American College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists.
According to the ACOG, the sound and movement being observed at this stage is ‘a portion of the foetal tissue that will become the heart as the embryo develops’ – in short, it’s not exactly a fully formed heart yet.
On top of its shaky scientific foundation, the act will allow individuals to start a lawsuit against anyone who ‘aids or abets’ an abortion past this time frame.
This means that even if a person hasn’t been directly affected or harmed by an abortion performed after six weeks of pregnancy, they still have a right to sue any other person for getting or providing one.
While exceptions for abortions carried out past six weeks will be permitted in the event of an emergency (so as long as written proof is provided by a doctor), Texas’ new law does not permit termination of pregnancies that are a result of instances of rape or incest.
Clinics in Texas have already stated that they would comply with the strict ruling as a matter of legality, although it is ‘contrary to their best medical practices.’
What does this mean for the future?
We are all aware that making certain actions illegal does not stop them from happening altogether.
So when it comes to healthcare in particular, placing restrictions on complex procedures could see women risking their lives by getting them in underground facilities by unskilled, but willing practitioners.
The World Health Organisation reported that 73.3 million abortions occurred each year throughout the period of 2015-2019. At least one in three of these were carried out in dangerous conditions.
Taking the legal route, those living in Texas will need to travel out of state if they wish to terminate a pregnancy after six weeks – a journey that means traveling a minimum of 399km.
Although this is possible, it will require financial resources, transportation, and extra time – which only create further obstacles for women looking to get the help they need.
On Wednesday, Joe Biden condemned the new law and reaffirmed his stance on women’s rights by saying: ‘this extreme Texas law blatantly violates the constitutional right established under Roe v Wade and upheld as a precedent for nearly half a century.’
It remains unclear whether the ‘Heartbeat Act’ will be reviewed by the Supreme Court, but considering abortion has been a controversial topic in the US for decades – the conversation around it will not end anytime soon.
So, does the new law in Texas violate women’s constitutional rights? You decide.