State legislatures across the country have increasingly sought to protect unborn children through what proponents call “heartbeat legislation.” Although not identical in each state, this legislation follows the same general pattern of restricting abortion from the moment a heartbeat is detected in an unborn child.
The Texas Heartbeat Bill (HB1500), was filed by Rep. Briscoe Cain (R-Deer Park), and co-authored by Reps. Phil King (R-Weatherford), Dan Flynn (R-Van), Tan Parker (R-Flower Mound), and Rick Miller (R-Sugar Land). It was referred to the House Public Health Committee on February 27, but has yet to be scheduled for a hearing.
Rep. Cain stated that he filed this bill in an effort to make “Texas the safest place in America for the unborn child.” The bill reads in part, “Texas has legitimate interests from the outset of a woman’s pregnancy in protecting the health of the woman and the life of an unborn child who may be born.”
The chair of the Public Health Committee, Rep. Senfronia Thompson (D-Houston), has thus far made no commitment to holding a hearing or scheduling a committee vote. When the Texan reached out to Thompson’s office, staff said they had no information to share.
If enacted, HB 1500 would require that an abortion provider attempt to detect a heartbeat of the unborn child prior to performing an abortion. If a heartbeat is detected, the abortion provider would be prohibited from performing the abortion, absent a medical emergency.
Typically, a heartbeat can be detected by ultrasound as early as six weeks into a pregnancy.
Texas law currently requires an ultrasound be conducted by an abortion provider a minimum of 24 hours prior to an abortion. Ultrasound images must be displayed, and any heartbeat found must be made audible. However, a mother seeking an abortion may choose to not view the images or hear the heartbeat results.
HB 1500 also explicitly provides an exception, allowing an abortion to be performed even after the presence of a heartbeat is detected if a physician believes a medical emergency exists. The physician would be required to make detailed records of the woman’s medical condition that constituted a medical emergency requiring an abortion, and maintain those detailed records for at least 7 years.
The bill makes any abortion induced or conducted in violation of HB 1500 a state jail felony, allowing for the prosecution of the abortion provider. It also establishes a civil cause of action for wrongful death.
Following the national attention that HB 896 received, legislation which would abolish abortion in Texas, the heartbeat bill explicitly protects women from a cause of action.
Rep. Flynn (R-Van) said in a statement, “Protecting unborn life is critical to who we are as a nation and a state. When you have a heartbeat, you have a life, and we should honor that life at all cost.”
Earlier this spring, heartbeat legislation passed and was signed into law in Kentucky, Mississippi, and Ohio. Georgia’s legislature has passed a similar measure, with Governor Brian Kemp expected to sign it before a May 10 deadline.
A federal judge blocked the Kentucky law from immediately going into effect.
Pro-choice groups have stated that they intend to take legal action to stop the legislation in Mississippi and Ohio as well as any other heartbeat legislation that passes this year.
North Dakota and Iowa have previously passed similar measures that have since been struck down in the courts. Those measures were not granted review by the United States Supreme Court, which is the ultimate goal of many heartbeat bill proponents nationwide.
The nationwide momentum for heartbeat legislation is a response to New York’s recently signed law, which removed abortion from the state’s penal code and allows for an abortion at virtually any point in a pregnancy.
In addition to Texas, heartbeat legislation is currently pending in 10 other states.
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Katie Fisher is a licensed attorney and writer with a broad range of political, private sector, and ministry experience. A California transplant, Katie earned her J.D. at the age of 21 from Oak Brook College of Law, subsequently passing the bar exam and going into private law practice. Texas became home when she moved to Houston to serve as the Deputy Director of Delegate Operations for the 2016 Cruz for President campaign. She currently resides in the Austin area with her husband and daughter.