Texas Legislature Sends ‘Heartbeat’ Bill to Gov. Greg Abbott

A pregnant woman with a painted baby on her belly takes part in the Movement for a Humanized Childbirth demonstration, at Paulista Avenue in Sao Paulo, Brazil, on Februrary 3, 2013. People protested against the new regulations of two hospitals --Pro Matre and Santa Joana-- which will allow women in …
Photo credit should read YASUYOSHI CHIBA/AFP via Getty Images

Gov. Greg Abbott (R) announced on Twitter Thursday the Texas legislature passed a bill that would outlaw abortions in the state once a fetal heartbeat is detected, generally at about six weeks gestation.

Abbott has said he will sign the bill into law.

The Austin American-Statesman reports the legislation “sailed to passage despite intense opposition from many Democrats.”

The state Senate approved the bill, 18-12, following its passage in the state House, 83-64, last week.

Other states have passed “heartbeat” bills and, once signed, abortion rights activists filed lawsuits challenging them. Subsequently, courts have blocked these laws, ruling they are unconstitutional.

However, the Texas measure contains a unique enforcement mechanism whereby any private citizen may file a civil lawsuit against an abortion provider or any other individual who “aids or abets” a “criminal abortion.”

After a letter, drafted by a coalition of Texas lawyers, expressed concern about the “exceptionally broad” language in the bill regarding the civil enforcement mechanism, the state House amended it with a provision that would limit the civil action mechanism to violations of the “heartbeat” ban.

Additionally, lawmakers also adopted an amendment that blocks individuals who impregnated a woman through rape, sexual assault, or incest from challenging an abortion through a lawsuit, reported the Statesman.

“The concern was that it was much broader than just the heartbeat bill,” said state Sen. Bryan Hughes (R), who sponsored the bill. “These amendments are consistent with the will of the Senate we expressed when we passed the bill.”

Abortion rights activists condemned the legislation:

NARAL Pro-Choice America President Ilyse Hogue released the following statement following the passage of the bill:

Anyone who believed that the defeat of Donald Trump would check the worst impulses of an extreme anti-choice GOP need look no further than my home state of Texas to be proven wrong. In fact, quite the opposite. With their lack of power at the federal level, anti-choice lawmakers across the country are ramping up their attacks on reproductive freedom at the state level and cruelty appears to be the point.

“There’s no low these legislators won’t sink to in their efforts to gut Roe v. Wade and push abortion care as far out of reach as possible—regardless of the damage inflicted on the lives, health, and well-being of Texas women and families,” Hogue added.

On May 1, the city of Lubbock, Texas, became the largest city in the United States to declare itself a “sanctuary city for the unborn,” the 26th in the nation to outlaw abortion, with an ordinance stating:

It shall be unlawful for any person to procure or perform an abortion of any type and at any stage of pregnancy in the City of Lubbock, Texas … It shall be unlawful for any person to knowingly aid or abet an abortion that occurs in the City of Lubbock, Texas.

Mark Lee Dickson, director of Right to Life of East Texas and founder of the Sanctuary Cities for the Unborn Initiative, wrote at Live Action News recently the ordinance contains two “enforcement mechanisms,” one public and one private:

Dickson wrote:

The public enforcement mechanism establishes fines against the abortionist and anyone who aids and abets the abortionist for any abortion which takes place within the City limits of Lubbock. The ordinance is clear that these fines cannot be imposed unless it is determined that the individual seeking to impose the penalty upon the one who committed the unlawful act will not create an “undue burden” on women seeking abortions, the person, corporation, or entity who committed the unlawful act of abortion lacks standing to assert the third-party rights of women seeking abortions in court, or Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey are overturned. This is only one section of the ordinance and the enforceability of this one section is not immediate, but dependent upon other factors.

Unlike the public enforcement mechanism, the private enforcement mechanism is immediately enforceable. This section states, “Any person, corporation, or entity that commits an unlawful . . . other than the mother of the unborn child that has been aborted, shall be liable in tort to a surviving relative of the aborted unborn child, including the unborn child’s mother, father, grandparents, siblings or half-siblings. The person or entity that committed the unlawful act shall be liable to each surviving relative of the aborted unborn child for: (a) Compensatory damages, including damages for emotional distress; (b) Punitive damages; and (c) Costs and attorneys’ fees.” Section F-4 clearly states, “The citizen-suit enforcement action . . . may be brought on or after the effective date of this ordinance.”

“While the public enforcement mechanism is dependent upon the overturning of Roe v. Wade, the private enforcement mechanism is immediately enforceable,” he explained.

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