87th LegislatureState HouseTexas House Gives Heartbeat Bill Initial Approval

Heartbeat legislation bans abortions after a heartbeat can be detected, typically occurring around 6 to 12 gestational weeks.
May 5, 2021
The Texas House gave initial approval today to a bill dubbed “The Texas Heartbeat Act,” which would ban abortions after a detectable heartbeat.

Uniquely, the bill would be enforced by lawsuits rather than government action, a yet-untried approach among the states that have already passed heartbeat laws. Texans would be able to sue anybody in the state that procures, aids, or abets an abortion, other than the mother herself.

State Rep. Shelby Slawson (R-Stephenville), who is carrying the bill in the House, added on an amendment that bars fathers who conceived the child out of rape or incest from engaging in the lawsuits. The amendment on its own passed with 136 ayes and 6 nays.

Flanked by several women Republican colleagues, Slawson recounted the tale of her own birth, which doctors predicted would result in miscarriage, and her mother’s choice to reject the option of abortion.

“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.

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A contentious span of debate followed, led first by Rep. Donna Howard (D-Austin), who said she cherished her children and grandchildren but wanted women to reserve the choice to have abortions.

“We all have stories about the miracles of birth,” 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.”

Citing the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, Howard then said what listeners interpret as a heartbeat is actually the sound of an electrical pulse emanating from the tissue that will develop into a heart.

“There’s no chambers. There’s no blood pumping going on at that time,” Howard said.

Rep. Bryan Slaton (R-Royse City) asked Slawson about the possibility of doctors lying about the presence of a heartbeat to avoid lawsuits. Slaton previously filed a bill to ban abortion entirely, and closed by saying “I believe the 14th Amendment applies to life in the womb.”

The bill passed 81 to 63 and now awaits a third and final reading. It made its way to the House after passing the Senate 19 to 12, including a sole Democratic “aye” vote from Sen. Eddie Lucio (D-Brownsville). Today in the House, Rep. Ryan Guillen (D-Rio Grande City) was the lone Democrat to support it.

“While I didn’t get to hold my middle daughter, I enjoy the tremendous privilege of having this conversation with you, and standing for her heartbeat and her life in here today,” Slawson said in closing.

Rep. Briscoe Cain (R-Deer Park) filed a heartbeat bill last session, but it never left committee. Then-Speaker of the House Dennis Bonnen (R-Angleton) referred it to the Committee on Public Health, where it died under the chairmanship of Rep. Senfronia Thompson (D-Houston).


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Isaiah Mitchell

Isaiah Mitchell is a reporter for The Texan, a Texas native, and a huge Allman Brothers fan. He graduated cum laude from Trinity University in 2020 with a degree in English. Isaiah loves playing music and football with his family.