Governor Greg Abbott signed Senate Bill (SB) 8 to ban abortions after a detectable pulse. The bill’s passage is a landmark moment for the proposal, which died in committee in 2019 as several other states passed their own versions. It is also the first heartbeat law of its kind, using civil lawsuits instead of government action for enforcement.
“The Texas Heartbeat Bill is now law in the Lone Star State,” Abbott said after signing the bill, carried by state Sen. Bryan Hughes (R-Mineola) in the Senate and Rep. Shelby Slawson (R-Stephenville) in the House.
Between the varying versions of heartbeat bills in the state legislature, SB 8 has remained the strongest. It allows any private citizen of Texas to sue those who perform or aid abortions after a detectable pulse, while Slawson’s other version would punish physicians who carry out the procedure with penalties assessed by the Texas Medical Board, such as fines and license suspension.
The 2019 version that died in committee would have empowered the state to jail physicians that violated it.
The version that became law today passed through a crucible of debate in the House between Slawson and Rep. Donna Howard (D-Austin), who said calling the pulse a “heartbeat” is a misnomer.
“There’s no chambers. There’s no blood pumping going on at that time,” Howard said.
“My pregnancies I was very grateful for… It doesn’t always work that way for everybody. There have always been abortions, and there always will be.”
Slawson said the pulse nonetheless shows a sign of life.
“Many men and women in this chamber have had that incredible experience when we first heard the sound of our then-unborn babies play out in a doctor’s office… That beautiful melody of a tiny life,” Slawson said.
It passed out of the Texas Senate 19 to 12, with one Democratic “aye” vote from Sen. Eddie Lucio (D-Brownsville).
“In committee… we heard the sound of two heartbeats: one a developed baby in a mother’s womb, the other a newly, newly beating baby. And those two recordings, obviously, I couldn’t tell the difference, right? And you couldn’t either,” Lucio said.
“But with both of them, you and I and others heard a human life. I know we did.”
Sen. Sarah Eckhardt (D-Austin) spoke against the bill afterwards, saying it would “isolate a woman in a very, very difficult moment.”
“This particular bill seeks to delay or dissuade a woman’s right to choose through isolating her by the threat of civil or criminal prosecution or professional ruin of anyone who attempts to help her,” Eckhardt said.
“And so, I rise in opposition for my grandmother who helped my mother, or my mother who helped countless women who faced this difficult choice and had their own conversations with God.”
The law allows any Texan, other than an officer or employee of a government entity, to sue any person who performs, induces, or aids an abortion on a child with a detectable heartbeat.
It makes an exception for medical emergencies to save the mother’s life.
Hughes, an attorney, has said the law’s unique enforcement strategy finds supporting court precedent in Okpalobi v. Foster, a Fifth Circuit ruling that upheld a Louisiana law allowing women to sue their abortionists for damages against themselves and their unborn children. The law was later upheld in K.P. v. Leblanc.
The Heartbeat Act passed out of the Texas Senate with several other pro-life bills, including the Preborn Non-Discrimination Act (PreNDA) and the “trigger” ban to outlaw abortions upon the overturning of Roe v. Wade.
It will take effect on September 1.
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