Fetal Heartbeat Bills: No Fetus, No Heartbeat, No Heart

This post contains a video, which you can also view here. To support more videos like this, head to patreon.com/rebecca!

Last week, Texas governor Greg Abbott made a bold declaration in favor of bodily autonomy and women’s rights, saying “Texans, not government (sic), should decide their best health practices.” Wow, that’s so great, I love it, I’m sure this executive order will drastically improve the lives of women in Texas who may seek out medical care like abortion. Oh, wait…sorry, that was an executive order outlawing the ability of any towns in Texas from requiring masks in public to stop the spread of a pandemic that has, as of this recording, killed more than 50,000 Texans.

On the same day that Abbott signed that executive order and announced that “Texans, not government, should decide their best health practices,” he also signed one of the most restrictive anti-abortion bills in US history, effectively stopping women from being able to decide their best health practices.

The new law will outlaw abortion after six weeks, which means that if a woman has a “regular” 28-day period (many women do not), and she misses a period, she will then have two weeks to realize what’s happening, get to a doctor, verify she’s pregnant, schedule and get her abortion. For most women, that is impossible. Pregnancy side effects like nausea and fatigue generally don’t even start until after six weeks. And most healthcare providers don’t even perform abortions until at least eight weeks because it’s safer as they can identify potential problems like an ectopic pregnancy. So, there’s not much up for debate here, this is an abortion ban. 

This isn’t the first time Republicans have passed unconstitutional bills banning abortion after six weeks. It has previously happened in Georgia, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Dakota, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Ohio (plus even worse bans in Alabama, Louisiana, and Utah), all of which are held up by legal challenges because they’re unconstitutional. They call these “fetal heartbeat bills,” which is just perfect because it truly encapsulates how little Republicans know or care about science, because they’re trying to say “this is when the poor little fetus’s heart starts beating” but at six weeks there is no heartbeat. THERE IS NO HEART. THERE IS NO FETUS. At six weeks, it is an EMBRYO. It is the size of a lentil. A few cells are just starting to form what will EVENTUALLY be a heart. You can put those cells in a petri dish and they will show activity. So, “fetal heartbeat” bill? No. Embryonic cardiac activity bill, maybe.

Remember that previous study I talked about that found that it’s mostly conservative Christians who are in favor of banning porn even though they cherry pick (and, let’s be honest, make up) scientific data to try to support their cause? Well, same thing here: what these lawmakers actually want to do is control women’s bodies, but they hide behind this “scientific” argument, like “Oh THIS is when the ‘baby’ has a heartbeat therefore this is an objective place to draw the line,” when in fact there is no baby, there is no fetus, there is no heart, there is no heartbeat, and there is no objective place to draw the line between when a woman is allowed to make a decision about her own body and when she is not allowed to make a decision about her own body.

Let’s backtrack just a bit. Remember how I said that nine other states already passed a 6-week abortion ban but none of those have gone into effect because they either are tied up in the courts or the courts have already thrown them out for being obviously, blatantly unconstitutional. The precedent the Supreme Court set in the 1970s is very clear: you cannot ban abortion before viability. A 6-week old embryo the size of a pea is not viable.

So why would Texas bother passing this law, too? Well! States will never stop passing these laws whether they have a chance to go into effect or not because they fire up the evangelical Christian base, keeping them coming out to vote for no reason other than “oh he tried to ban abortion.” They also always have the chance, however slim it may be, that one of these lawsuits blocking the laws will make it to the Supreme Court, which is newly friendly to evangelicals. In fact, that is what is currently happening, as the Supreme Court just announced that this autumn they will be hearing Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, a case regarding Mississippi’s 15-week abortion ban. When a Mississippi judge originally ruled that the abortion ban was unconstitutional, he wrote ““The state chose to pass a law it knew was unconstitutional to endorse a decades-long campaign, fueled by national interest groups, to ask the Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade. This court follows the commands of the Supreme Court and the dictates of the United States Constitution, rather than the disingenuous calculations of the Mississippi Legislature.”

“With the recent changes in the membership of the Supreme Court, it may be that the state believes divine providence covered the Capitol when it passed this legislation,” he wrote. “Time will tell. If overturning Roe is the state’s desired result, the state will have to seek that relief from a higher court. For now, the United States Supreme Court has spoken.”

And so they did seek that relief from a higher court and boom, they got it. I mean, eventually — the court of appeals also upheld the previous judge’s ruling but who cares? The Supreme Court is now stacked with anti-choice Trump appointees and dammit, they’re going to fight to do what they are being paid by Christian evangelicals to do: prevent women from accessing life-changing medical care.

So there’s two reasons that Texas has passed a law they know is unconstitutional. However, there is one more thing you should know: this new law differs from the other six-week abortion bans in that it contains vague language that may enable anyone anywhere in the United States to sue anyone “in Texas who “aid[s] or abet[s]” an abortion or who “intend[s]” to help an abortion patient.” So, let’s say that I know someone who volunteers to escort patients past protesters at Planned Parenthood. That’s classic aiding, abetting, and intending to help an abortion patient, so I, an otherwise uninvolved asshole in California, can conceivably sue that volunteer under this new law for a minimum of $10,000. And if a judge decides that my case is insane and throws it out, the law specifically notes that the volunteer I sued cannot recover their legal costs from me.

Moira Donnegan spells it out over at the Guardian:

“It would render virtually everyone involved with the operation of a clinic, or who materially contributes to a pro-choice organization, to be sued. Clinic escort volunteers can be sued; so can non-medical clinic staff, like janitors or receptionists. Anyone who has donated to an abortion fund, or a pro-choice organization such as Planned Parenthood, can be sued under the Texas law. So can anyone who provides any kind of material support to a patient seeking an abortion, such as a ride to or from the clinic. After an outcry, the Texas legislature amended the bill to create an exception, saying that a rapist would not be permitted to use the law to sue the providers who gave his victim her abortion. But the law only applies to those men who have been convicted of rape. In Texas, 91% of rapes go unreported.”
Now, you all already know how I feel about people who use the law to curtail free speech. This law, if it goes into effect as is, would be devastating for free speech in Texas. Devastating. It would shut down clinics, doctors and other providers would be made destitute, and  anti-abortion activists across the country will trip over themselves rushing to sue mouthy broads like me. If I lived in Texas I would need to shut down this channel, shut down Skepchick, and never speak publicly about the science and pseudoscience surrounding the issue of abortion. And come on, you know I’m not doing that. Texans, vote these assholes out. You’re a purple state now. Act like it. Because you know, as Governor Abbott says, “Texans, not government, should decide their best health practices.”

Rebecca Watson

Rebecca is a writer, speaker, YouTube personality, and unrepentant science nerd. In addition to founding and continuing to run Skepchick, she hosts Quiz-o-Tron, a monthly science-themed quiz show and podcast that pits comedians against nerds. There is an asteroid named in her honor. Twitter @rebeccawatson Mastodon mstdn.social/@rebeccawatson Instagram @actuallyrebeccawatson TikTok @actuallyrebeccawatson YouTube @rebeccawatson BlueSky @rebeccawatson.bsky.social

Related Articles

One Comment

  1. The evangelical right (and the catholics) don’t give a rat’s ass about helping those poor unborn bundles of cells. No, they want to control women’s bodies. If they wanted to help the unborn, they would be trying to get contraception to more women. They would be taking care of the children and families of those born against the mother’s wishes. I swear, if men gave birth, there would be no problems getting reproductive services.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Back to top button