Analysis of The Texas Heartbeat Bill

On May 19th of 2021, Governor Abbott signed Senate Bill 8 which made it illegal for abortions to take place in the state of Texas after a doctor detects the heartbeat. We'll break down the bill here including the relevant figures involved and the bill stages.

Table of Contents

Texas’ version of the heartbeat bill overturned many existing laws and practices regarding how Abortion was regulated (and how that regulation is enforced). We’ll walk through the bill stages but first give an overview of what the bill does, how it impacts physicians, and what this means going forward.

What Does The Bill Say?

Though you can read the full bill here, the bill makes four assertions or claims to the purpose and reasoning of the bill in its statement of intent. Whatever criticisms of the bill one may have, the statement of intent is, at the very least, clear. Those five claims:

  • A fetuses heartbeat is a primary predictor of whether a fetus will reach a live birth. In the first premise, the author states that 20 weeks (the current law prior to September 1, 2021) is well beyond the time when a fetus is viable.
  • The Bill overturns existing codes related to Health and safety, as well as Civil procedures (we’ll get to in subsequent sections).
  • Now starting to get more controversial, the Senator’s third argument is that the bill requires that doctor’s check to see if the fetus has a heartbeat.
  • If an abortion is performed, the doctor must make explicit notes about the patients medical record. This is an attempt to avoid cases where the doctor will perform an abortion and argue that it was done for the safety of the mother (without providing evidence). The doctor in this case, will become liable in civil court if they do not perform these actions.

Who Wrote It?

Well, as we’ve discussed, bills are often written by nonprofits and lobbyists at the federal level. Then bills are adopted by states. A dicey issue for sure but, as far as the official bill author goes, the bill was presented by more then a dozen authors including (by last name): Hughes, Bettencourt, Birdwell, Buckingham, Campbell, Creighton, Hall, Hancock, Huffman, Kolkhorst, Lucio, Nelson, Paxton, Perry, Schwertner, Springer, and Taylor. We won’t even bother naming the list of cosponsors but let’s just say it’s more than double the list of authors. One typically finds this on pieces of historic legislation, or bills with quite a bit of party wide support, as representatives want to have their name on early stages of the bill.

The official author as listed on the Bill stages however is Senator Bryan Hughes from Texas state District 1 (think Bowie, Camp, Cass, Franklin..etc).

How Does This Impact Physicians?

We’ve been asked quite a few questions about how this impacts physicians and this is covered in sections 171.204 and 171.205 of the the bill. So these sections make sure that physicians make sure to check for a heartbeat but also goes a bit a further. For example, subsection (b) of section 171.205 “requires a physician who performs or induces an abortion under circumstances described by Subsection (a) to make written notations in the pregnant woman’s medical record of the physician’s belief that a medical emergency necessitated the abortion and of the medical condition of the pregnant woman that prevented compliance with this subchapter.”

Senate Committee and Vote

As this was a Senate Bill, it began in the senate where it was assigned to the State Affairs committee. This is relevant because Sen. Bryan Hughes, who introduced the bill as the lead author (see above), is chair of that committee. The bill passed through committee with a vote of 7 Ayes (or yes votes) and 2 (no).

Though there were some proposed amendments house amendments that we restart the process, the bill successfully passed through the Senate on March 30th, 2021. Then once it came back with the amendments added by the house, it passed another vote on May 13th, 2021 just before the session ended.

House Committee and Vote (and amendments)

The bill would then go to the house where it was assigned to the committee on Public Health. A heated amount of debate took place between the need for the bill but, in the end, the bill was able to pass through committee with a 6 to 4 vote in favor of the bill.

As noted above, the bill first passed through the Senate on March 30th but three amendments were attempted to be added to the bill. One that was successfully added to the bill was by Representative Slawson added amendment number 1. The amendment essentially argues that a civil action cannot be brought “by the person who impregnated the abortion patient.” More specifically, in cases of rape or incest, the amendment argues that in cases of rape or incest, the person who caused the pregnancy cannot sue the victim.

After a lengthy exchange between Representative Ramos and Representative Slawson, the amendment successfully passed through the house with a record vote of 136 in favor against just six opposed. Now that there are officially amendments added to the bill, it had to go back to the originating chamber (the Senate) for a vote but not until the amended version passed through the house. The amended version of SB 8 passed the house on May 6th with a vote of 83 in favor, 64 no votes and one member was present and did not vote (the speaker).

Governor Action

As expected, the bill was signed into law by Governor Abbott on May 19th, 2021. This was eleven days before the session was set to conclude on May 31, 2021.

When Does This Bill Become Law

This bill will become effective on September 1st, 2021.

Comparison To Other States

As of 2021, many conservative states are moving towards utilizing a fetus’ heartbeat as the moment of life. Laws have been proposed in Georgia (blocked in 2019), Alabama (also blocked in 2013) and Arkansas, as well as several other states around the country. Currently only Tennessee has successfully adopted a law that puts a hard limit at 6 weeks.

Opinions on SB 8

Given the voluminous amount of ink that has been spent on the official opinions of SB 8 around the bill and heartbeat bills in general, we’ll just give the feedback from some of the nonprofits and lobbyists around the state. Perhaps one of the states most committed action groups for Pro Life, Texas Right to Life, was enthusiastic about the bill from the early stages. Meanwhile groups such as Planned Parenthood Texas Votes and Planned Parenthood Action Fund were vehemently against the bills passage.