In May of this year, Texas Governor Greg Abbott signed into law one of the most restrictive bans on abortion in the nation. The law prohibits anyone from getting an abortion after cardiac activity can be detected — which is at approximately six weeks of pregnancy — and the law grants private citizens the right to sue abortion providers or anyone who aids in the process after the six week mark.
Last week on Sept. 2, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the Texas law. This challenges the landmark case “Roe v. Wade,” which legalized abortion using the trimester system, with regulations enacted as the fetus reaches viability as long as maternal health is not compromised. The new Texas law does allow for an exception when maternal health is compromised, but the exceptions are very narrow and do not properly consider every potential scenario. Futhermore, the law does not allow exemptions in cases of incest or rape.
The new Texas law is extremely restrictive and does not take medical science into account. This law sets a dangerous precedent in challenging “Roe v. Wade.”
And, of course, this new law is incredibly controlling: it controls the bodies of those with a uterus, it provides no contraceptive measures to prevent pregnancy, it does not improve the alternative options (such as adoption or foster care systems) and it does not improve health care nor other infrastructures that can help families who do not have the means to provide for an unexpected child.
In Texas, abortion providers have estimated that out of the patients that seek an abortion, 85% of them are past the six week point and therefore, would be unable to get an abortion under the new law. Six weeks is extremely early in a pregnancy for someone to get an abortion. To put this into perspective, doctors estimate that when a person who menstruates misses their period, they are approximately four weeks pregnant. Since there are many reasons for missing a period, it takes time to confirm pregnancy and to make further decisions and arrangements.
At the bare minimum, they have two weeks to confirm they are definitely pregnant with a pregnancy test or a blood sample, to make a decision about continuing with the pregnancy and to find an abortion provider. This does not take into account people who have irregular periods and people who may not have access to an abortion clinic, whether for financial reasons, distance or another reason altogether. Therefore, at six weeks, it is often the case for someone to be unaware they are pregnant or to be unable to seek an abortion in this short window.
From a medical perspective, it is extremely difficult to know whether or not the pregnancy is viable. In an article from “The New York Times,” Dr. Jennifer Villavicencio pointed out that the cardiac activity present at six weeks is not actually indicative of a true heartbeat. It is not possible to indicate fetal viability, as it only shows electrical activity because the heart valves have not formed properly.
Certain conditions that are deadly to the fetus may also be unknown prior to the six week mark. An example of this is anencephaly, which is due to the improper closure of the neural tube during fetal development. Typically, when the neural tube closes, it helps form the baby’s skull, scalp and brain. However, in cases of anencephaly, portions of the baby’s brain and skull are missing and whatever brain tissue is present is exposed. Babies born with anencephaly die within a few hours or days of being born as there is no treatment or cure.
Anencephaly is usually correctly diagnosed during the 12 to 13 week ultrasound. With the new Texas law, this is too late for an abortion, and many of these babies would need to be carried to term regardless of the fact that anencephaly is a lethal condition. Other babies with deadly conditions that could be detected on an ultrasound past the six week mark would also have to be carried to term due to the restrictive nature of this law.
Although the Texas law does have exceptions in cases where maternal health is compromised, Elizabeth Nash, state policy analyst for the Guttmacher Institute (a research organization that supports abortion rights), pointed out that the exceptions are very narrow in an article from “The New York Times,”. Additionally, due to the potential consequences for abortion providers enumerated in the law, Nash predicted that health providers will interpret that aspect of the law conservatively.
The new Texas abortion law is clearly immensely detrimental. The law is restrictive, controlling and does not consider medical science. This creates a harmful precedent and may cause states around the country to enact even stricter abortion laws regarding. Abortion is a part of comprehensive reproductive health care and should be treated as such.
Studies show that easier access to birth control is a better way to reduce abortions than to restrict abortion access. Instead of controlling the bodies of those who are pregnant, provide them the means to prevent becoming pregnant altogether. This could be in the form of comprehensive sex education or more widely available contraceptive and birth control options. However, given recent U.S. laws restricting access to contraceptives through employee health plans, governments in the U.S. are far more interested in controlling the bodies of those who are pregnant than ensuring that abortions occur less frequently.
Creating better systems that support people after a baby is born would help reduce the number of abortions for those who cannot afford to raise a baby. This could be in the form of increased universal health care, paid family leave or other infrastructure changes that support families. However, once again, this is not currently the case in the U.S., as health care is still unaffordable for many people.
Rather than restricting abortions and making it almost impossible for people who are pregnant to get an abortion, the bigger problem lies in access to contraceptives and improving the systems we live in. The new Texas law is creating a dangerous precedent that limits an aspect of health care. Abortion is a part of reproductive health care and creating restrictions that are not based on medical science nor in the interest of those who are pregnant is extremely detrimental.