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Sebastian's Point

Sebastian's Point is a weekly column written by one of our members regarding timely events or analysis of relevant ideas, which impact the Culture of Life. All regular members are invited to submit a column for publication at soss.submissions@gmail.com. Columns should be between 800 to 1300 words and comply with the high standards expected in academic writing, including proper citations of authority or assertions referred to in your column. Please see, Submission Requirements for more details.

Two Years Later, Texas Heartbeat Law Proves Strong Vitality in the Courts and the Nursery

Mary Elizabeth Castle, J.D.

Government Relations Director

Texas Values   |  14 December 2023

In 2021, Texas led the way in pro-life policy by passing the Texas Heartbeat Law, which had implications beyond saving babies just in the state of Texas. The Texas Heartbeat Law influenced the pro-life movement by creating momentum for the U.S. Supreme Court case Dobbs v. Jackson that overturned Roe v. Wade. The novel strategy in the Texas Heartbeat Law of using civil enforcement sparked debate from both the pro-life and abortion activist movements as to its ability to stop abortion and be upheld in the courts.  To date, texasheartbeatlaw.com has estimated that 123,069 babies have been saved by the Texas Heartbeat Law.[1] Since going into effect, the Heartbeat Law’s influence has renewed efforts in Texas to help mothers and babies. Unfortunately, the legal challenges are not over as a recent challenge claims that the “medical exception” provision of the law is confusing and undefined. Sadly, the illicit online marketing of chemical abortion pills and the efforts to transport women across state lines for abortions remain issues to be resolved. Nevertheless, Texas can still claim victory in the pro-life arena because of the success of the Texas Heartbeat Law.

 

The Texas Heartbeat Law was passed and signed into law during the 87th Texas Legislative Session and became effective September 1, 2021. The law was almost immediately challenged by abortion lawyers and activists in court, but these challenges failed to stop the Texas Heartbeat Law from going into effect. In fact, the Texas Heartbeat Law survived twice at the United States Supreme Court. First, SCOTUS denied certiorari in a challenge to the Heartbeat Law that would have stopped the law from going into effect. Later in the same year, SCOTUS heard oral arguments for a different lawsuit against the Texas Heartbeat Law and ruled in favor of the state. Despite other legal challenges, the Texas Heartbeat Law has been able to remain in effect for the past two years.

 

The Texas Heartbeat Law has proven to be quite effective in saving the lives of babies. Before the Heartbeat Law took effect in 2021, an estimated 55,000 abortions occurred in Texas each year.[2] For context, the number of abortions that occurred each year in Texas would amount to the entire population of Port Arthur, Texas at 55,579 people and would be more than the entire population of Grapevine, Texas, which has 51, 226 people.[3] Within a matter of months, the Texas Heartbeat Law proved to have a significant effect on the number of abortions performed in Texas. According to the Texas Health and Human Services Commission, abortions fell 60 percent in the first month after the Texas Heartbeat Law went into effect.[4] A study by the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health found that the Texas Heartbeat Law passed in 2021 produced the births of 9, 799 more babies in the months of April- December of 2022.[5] It can be concluded that the civil enforcement mechanism of the Texas Heartbeat Law was an effective deterrent in stopping abortions in Texas. An article published in September 2021, the same month that the Texas Heartbeat Law took effect, reported that a network of abortion clinics turned away more than 100 patients. Of course, as litigious as Planned Parenthood and abortionists have been for decades, they should be familiar with the devastating effects of owing thousands of dollars as a result of a civil lawsuit. A financial risk to abortionists has proven extremely threatening to an industry that has become financially prosperous across the United States for the last 50 years.

 

Notwithstanding the Texas Heartbeat Law’s continuing success in saving the lives of thousands of babies, Texas continued to advance policy that would help mothers and babies flourish. Texas has always had state policies that proved legislators and people in the movement cared about women and children and were not simply pushing laws to stop abortions. Since 2005, the Texas government has funded the Alternatives to Abortion program that provides state funding to pregnancy resource centers, adoption agencies, counseling services, maternity homes, and other services that a mother and baby may need. During the same legislative session when the Texas Heartbeat Law was passed, the Texas Legislature increased the Alternatives to Abortion funding to $100 million, making it one of the largest funded programs of its kind in the country.[6] This year, the Texas Legislature increased the funding to $140 million for the next biennium.[7] Additional funding of $25 million was granted for the 2023 fiscal year[8].Furthermore, the Texas Legislature passed SB 24, the Thriving Texas Families Act that codifies the Alternatives to Abortion program so that it will not be dependent upon being a budget amendment every legislative session. Not only does SB 24 create permanency for the program, but the new name signifies a renewed purpose of focusing on supporting healthy family formation.

 

While many abortionists ceased operations after the enactment of the Texas Heartbeat Law and continued to close their clinics after the U.S. Supreme Court decided Dobbs v. Jackson, some abortion activists remain relentless. Texas women are still being lured to purchase abortion drugs online. The Texas legislature passed SB 4 in a special session in 2021 to stop mail-order abortions, but more work needs to be done to address enforcement of this law. Additionally, abortion activists, like those in San Antonio, want to see financial aid be given to women so that they may travel out of state to obtain an abortion. Currently, the Center for Reproductive Rights is challenging the Texas Heartbeat Law and the Human Life Protect Act in court by claiming that the term “medical exception” is unclear. The Texas Supreme Court heard arguments for this case (Zurwaski v. State of Texas) the last week of November. Just recently, a Travis County District Court judge allowed a woman who is 20 weeks pregnant to obtain an abortion because her baby has trisomy-18.[9] Thankfully, the Texas Supreme Court issued a stay on the district judge’s order on December 8, late in the evening.[10]  Time will tell whether the medical exception terminology is truly unclear or if activist doctors are taking advantage of vulnerable women by refusing to treat them.

 

Ultimately, the Texas Heartbeat Law has proven to be one of the most effective pro-life laws our country has seen. Not only has the law survived legal challenges and deterred abortionists, but the law answers a very important issue that was not addressed in either Roe or Dobbs: personhood. Saying that a life must be protected once a heartbeat is detected enforces the truth that the baby inside is indeed a person with a right to life. And Texas is leading the way in fighting for every heartbeat, every life.

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[1] Texas Heartbeat Law, https://texasheartbeatlaw.com/ (last visited Dec. 11, 2023).

[2] Center for Reproductive Rights, Whole Women’s Health v. Jackson: Abortion in Texas (last visited Dec. 11, 2023),https://reproductiverights.org/case/texas-abortion-ban-us-supreme-court/abortion-in-texas/ .

[3]Texas Demographics, Texas Cities by Population (last visited Dec. 11, 2023), https://www.texas-demographics.com/cities_by_population.

[4] Associated Press, Abortions in Texas Fell 60% in the First Month After its New Law Took Effect, (Feb. 10, 2022), https://www.npr.org/2022/02/10/1079963293/abortions-in-texas-fell-60-in-the-first-month-after-its-new-law-took-effect.

[5] Bell, Suanne O. and Elizabeth A. Stuart, Analysis Suggests 2021 Texas Abortion Ban Resulted in Nearly 9,800 Extra Live Births in State In Year After Law Went Into Effect, (June 29, 2023), https://publichealth.jhu.edu/2023/analysis-suggests-2021-texas-abortion-ban-resulted-in-nearly-9800-extra-live-births-in-state-in-year-after-law-went-into-effect

[6] S.B. No. 1 General Appropriations Act Eighty-seventh Legislature, p. II-36, (May 22,2021), https://capitol.texas.gov/tlodocs/87R/billtext/pdf/SB00001F.pdf#navpanes=0 .

[7] Conference Committee Report, H.B. No. 1 General Appropriations Act Eighty-eighth Legislature, p. II-36,( May, 19, 2023), https://www.lbb.texas.gov/Documents/Appropriations_Bills/88/Conference_Bills/Conf_CCR_GAB_88R.pdf .

[8] Texas Health and Human Services, Alternatives to Abortion Report for Fiscal Year 2023, p. 13, (December 2023), https://www.hhs.texas.gov/sites/default/files/documents/alternatives-abortion-fy2023-rider68.pdf .

[9] Klibanoff, Eleanor, Judge Says Woman May Abort Fetus with Lethal Abnormality, (Dec. 7, 2023), https://www.texastribune.org/2023/12/07/texas-emergency-abortion-lawsuit/.

[10] In Re State of Texas, (Dec. 8, 2023), https://reproductiverights.org/wp-content/uploads/2023/12/23-0994_23-0994-Order-Issued-12-8-23.pdf.

 

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