Anti-abortion ‘heartbeat bill’ gains more support in Texas House
AUSTIN — Support is building in the Texas House to outlaw abortion once a fetal heartbeat is detected, which could spark a fierce battle in the Legislature about whether to pass legislation that will immediately face a court challenge.
Fifty-seven state representatives have signed onto House Bill 1500, a proposal by Rep. Briscoe Cain, R-Deer Park, which would ban most abortions in Texas. A fetal heartbeat can be detected around six weeks into a pregnancy, which is before many women know they are pregnant. Less than two weeks ago, 44 lawmakers to registered to support the so-called “heartbeat bill.”
House Speaker Dennis Bonnen has yet to assign the bill to a committee, although similar bills are up for debate in other states or have been challenged in the courts for creating an unconstitutional burden for women seeking an abortion in an effort to overturn the Roe v. Wade.
It’s unclear how many Texans the bill would affect if passed into law. Texas health statistics provided by the state show about 80 percent of abortions happen in the first trimester, although data posted online by the Department of State Health Services provides little detail about when women undergo abortions prior to 6 weeks gestation.
Researchers at the University of Texas at Austin found that 24 percent of nearly 600 women they surveyed at abortion clinics throughout the state had been pregnant for five weeks or less at the time of their visit last fall, although researchers warned that not all of the women underwent abortions that day and the sample size was small and not meant to be representative of all abortions in the state.
Abortions are legal in Texas after up to 20 weeks of pregnancy. In the event the life of the mother is at stake or the fetus has a severe abnormality, abortions are permitted after 20 weeks of gestation, although another lawmaker proposed a bill Monday making it illegal to terminate a pregnancy because of a fetal abnormality.
There are more than a dozen bills pending that seek to chip away at access to abortion in Texas.