The new pro-life Texas Heartbeat Act has sparked controversy and litigation as expected following its enactment earlier this year. Becoming effective on September 1, the law prohibits most abortions in Texas after medical detection of a fetal heartbeat. It usually occurs around the sixth week of pregnancy, and the rule applies unless in a medical emergency.
The law places enforcement power with private citizens who can bring lawsuits in state court for statutory damages starting at $10,000 per abortion and injunctions as necessary to enforce the law.
Republican Governor Greg Abbott has now rejected legislative proposals to include exceptions to the law for pregnancies resulting from abuse or incest. Republican state Representative Lyle Larson introduced a bill last week seeking to add those exceptions. Larson voted for the Heartbeat Act when it was initially passed.
In a letter to Abbott, Larson stated that adding the exceptions is a “common-sense fix” and acknowledges that the legislature cannot prevent abuse. He said that he had received constituent feedback requesting that the exceptions be added to the act.
In an interview last week with Fox News, Abbott said that he was looking at why the law was passed “in the first place.” He said that the goal of the law is to “protect the lives of every child with a heartbeat.” Abbott said that he did not believe the bill adding the exceptions would ever make it to his desk in any event.
John Seago, legislative director of Texas Right to Life, has said that his group strongly opposes Larson’s exceptions bill. Seago stated that all unborn children do not receive equal protection of the law when “loopholes and exceptions” are added.
The Supreme Court refused to block the Heartbeat Act from becoming effective, and abortion activists challenging the law have now petitioned the court to take up the case for a final ruling on its constitutionality before a trial in federal court, and the normal appeals process takes place.
That petition has not been ruled on, although the court will be hearing a case arising from Mississippi’s ban on abortions at 15 weeks in its upcoming term. In that case, the State of Mississippi and several other interested parties have asked the court to overturn Roe v. Wade directly. This 1973 case ruled there is a constitutional right to abortion.