Opinion: Texas’ Heartbeat Act lacks needed exemptions and should be called the “Heartless Act”

Opinion: Texas’ Heartbeat Act lacks needed exemptions and should be called the “Heartless Act”

Kerrigan Lockhart
eSomethin staff

On September 1st, 2021, lawmakers from the state of Texas passed a ban on all abortions six weeks past the date of the first day of a woman’s last menstrual period. For most embryos, the sixth week of pregnancy begins cardiac activity, one of the earliest indications of a developing embryo.  

The law, known as the Texas Heartbeat Act, allows private citizens to sue abortion providers and anyone suspected of “aiding and abetting” an abortion for at least $10,000. 

Texas’ actions have influenced more states into proposing the same bill, including Arkansas, Florida, and South Carolina among others. 

Although a federal judge has temporarily blocked the law, the principles of the act and its influence pose a problem: there is no guidance when it comes to extreme cases, from prior medical conditions to victims of sexual abuse or incest. 

“Aiding and abetting” 

The most crucial principle of the Texas Heartbeat Act is the ability for private citizens to sue anyone “aiding and abetting” the abortion process. This power is vague, and there is gray area for a private citizen to take advantage of it. The idea of “aiding and abetting” could be tied to anyone — from parents helping daughters get an abortion to doctors at the practice where the abortion took place. There is no cap for the amount of people a person may sue. 

Recommended appointments 

A woman may not even realize she is pregnant by the six week cutoff. Most doctors don’t even recommend an early-pregnancy ultrasound until 7 ½-8, or even 11-14 weeks of pregnancy, as 6-week appointments are often only scheduled if a woman has had a past miscarriage or difficulty with a previous pregnancy. 

Women’s medical conditions 

It is common for women to suffer from medical issues during pregnancy, including a retroverted uterus, which affects almost one fourth of the world’s female population. This condition could prevent medical providers from detecting a heartbeat, potentially delaying a woman finding out she is pregnant.  

A retroverted uterus curves in a backwards position at the cervix, or lower end of the womb, instead of in the regular forward position. This condition and others like it were not included as exemptions in the final Heartbeat Act.

The most common issue not taken into account in the Heartbeat Act is an irregular period. Around 14-25% of women have irregular periods, causing the estimation of their current pregnancy length to be maximally inaccurate or even nonexistent. 

Another factor needed to be contemplated is the location of a women’s placenta. If a female’s placenta is growing on the anterior, or front wall, of her uterus, only the mother’s heartbeat will be detected, not the embryo’s. 

Retroverted uteruses, irregular periods, larger abdomens, anterior placentas, and even the small size of the embryo are just a few of the abundant medical conditions that will often prevent the appearance of a heartbeat by the sixth week of pregnancy. 

Unconsented pregnancies 

Prior to the Texas Heartbeat Act, there were accommodations regarding victims of sexual abuse and incest. According to the CDC, “Nearly 1 in 5 women have experienced completed or attempted rape during their lifetime . . . 1 in 3 rape victims reported it for the first time between 11-17 years old.” As these cases are out of the woman’s control, and many victims are teenagers and have their whole life ahead of them, they turn to termination. Now that the law has been passed, women have lost that option. 

Fatal fetal anomalies 

Medical issues that directly affect the growing embryo were also overlooked. There is a wide array of awful syndromes often known as fatal fetal anomalies (FFAs), which are defined as conditions likely to lead to death within 28 days of birth. Edwards’ syndrome (trisomy 18) and the similar Patau syndrome (trisomy 13) are two examples of FFAs, which are frequently referred to as “incompatible with life”. Both of these conditions involve an extra chromosome, Edwards’ being an additional chromosome 18, and Patau an extra chromosome 13. These fatal syndromes cause severe developmental delays, both physical and intellectual. Usually, women are permitted to get an abortion if either her’s or the baby’s lives are in danger, and many choose to, in order to refrain from watching the child suffer after the birth process. With the implementation of the Texas Heartbeat Act, there is no clarification of whether or not this is an option. 

Position

Overall, the Texas Heartbeat Act is too strict. The law should take into account reasonable exemptions. No matter the size of the factor overlooked by lawmakers, each and every one will affect women one way or another. 

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