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USA-Texas’s Draconian ‘Heartbeat’ Abortion Law

Newspaper: Avenue Mail

Date: 6th September 2021

On 19th May 2021, the state of Texas stunned the United States of America when its 48th Governor Gregory Wayne Abbott signed a controversial bill on abortions into law. Known as the Texas Heartbeat Act or SB 8, the draconian bill prohibits any abortions to be conducted on a woman once the fetal heartbeat can be heard. The law in effect bars abortions once the fetus shows certified cardiac activity.

 

Usually, women take time to discover their pregnancy and the heartbeat of the fetus can only be heard around the sixth week of pregnancy. The text of the new law defines the core of the argument as the “fetal heartbeat means the cardiac activity of the steady, repetitive rhythmic contraction of the fetal heart within the gestational sac.” When a woman misses her periods and if she has had unprotected sex, she will have to check for her pregnancy after the fourth week of copulation. Technically, as per the law, she will have a narrow window of two weeks to take her life’s decision with her partner on the future course of action. Though the bill was signed in May 2021, it has come into effect on the 1st of September 2021.

Replying to an emergency case filed in the Supreme Court of the United States on 30th of August 2021, the apex court in a 5-4 midnight ruling refused to block the draconian Texan law. Civil society and abortion rights groups were disappointed as their last hope to get the law quashed went in vain even as clinics across the state of Texas accepted the verdict to strictly adhere to the law. Leading health outlets were rushing with pending abortions before the deadline by being proactive with their patients. The 1973 landmark judgment of the US Supreme Court where the court ruled that the constitution of the United States protects a pregnant woman's liberty to choose to have an abortion without excessive government restriction, did not obstruct the current composition of US Supreme Court judges to allow the Texan law to remain in force. Calling it a "stunning court’s order” Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote "Presented with an application to enjoin a flagrantly unconstitutional law engineered to prohibit women from exercising their constitutional rights and evade judicial scrutiny, a majority of justices have opted to bury their heads in the sand."

 

The American President, Joe Biden, on 2nd September 2021, in a rare attack on the highest court of the land said, “The Supreme Court’s ruling overnight is an unprecedented assault on a woman’s constitutional rights under Roe v. Wade, which has been the law of the land for almost fifty years. By allowing a law to go into effect that empowers private citizens in Texas to sue health care providers, family members supporting a woman exercising her right to choose after six weeks, or even a friend who drives her to a hospital or clinic, it unleashes unconstitutional chaos and empowers self-anointed enforcers to have devastating impacts. Complete strangers will now be empowered to inject themselves in the most private and personal health decisions faced by women.”

Expressing his shock, the President said “This law is so extreme it does not even allow for exceptions in the case of rape or incest. And it not only empowers complete strangers to inject themselves into the most private of decisions made by a woman—it actually incentivizes them to do so with the prospect of $10,000 if they win their case. For the majority to do this without a hearing, without the benefit of an opinion from a court below, and without due consideration of the issues, insults the rule of law and the rights of all Americans to seek redress from our courts.”

His attack continued “Rather than use its supreme authority to ensure justice could be fairly sought, the highest Court of our land will allow millions of women in Texas in need of critical reproductive care to suffer while courts sift through procedural complexities. The dissents by Chief Justice Roberts, and Justices Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan all demonstrate the error of the Court’s action here powerfully. While the Chief Justice was clear to stress that the action by the Supreme Court is not a final ruling on the future of Roe, the impact of last night’s decision will be immediate and requires an immediate response.” Signaling that his government will not sit quietly he said “One reason I became the first president in history to create a Gender Policy Council was to be prepared to react to such assaults on women’s rights. Hence, I am directing that Council and the Office of the White House Counsel to launch a whole-of-government effort to respond to this decision, looking specifically to the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Justice to see what steps the Federal Government can take to ensure that women in Texas have access to safe and legal abortions as protected by Roe, and what legal tools we have to insulate women and providers from the impact of Texas’ bizarre scheme of outsourced enforcement to private parties.” It was rare for an American President to lash out at the courts on the assault of the American idea of freedom and privacy. The Biden administration’s actions will determine the outcome of the future of Texan women.

The President’s statement is not deterring lawmakers in other states are rushing to copy the Texan abortion law into their states. States like North Dakota, South Dakota, Mississippi, Indiana, Arkansas, and Florida are eyeing the enactment of a similar law. This has created further resentment between human rights groups and abortion activists and pro-abortion advocates as the Supreme Court’s tactic approval encourages other states to enact a similar draconian law.

The United States of America has long stood as the beacon of hope, human rights, freedom of choice, and expression. The most powerful country in the world often advocates its rights of citizens to other countries across the world to emulate. Today the freedom of the women citizens of its state of Texas is under threat as the new law limits the choice of the individual in a rather narrow legal window to take an important decision of life, to bring a new life into this world. The right to get an abortion must always lie with the woman as it’s an individual choice. Restricting the window to a ‘heartbeat’, limits the right of the citizen in exercising their choice. Though anti-abortion advocates argue that the individual gets 6 weeks to decide, that may not be enough in case of delayed periods which can stress out the woman in taking a decision that will impact her life forever.

Pro-abortion groups argue that women who are at a disadvantage economically, socially, and mentally may not have the access to healthcare and may take time to arrive at the health clinic in time to get themselves aborted. Once they skip their periods in four to five weeks, they will have to decide between keeping or aborting within a few hours, rush to the nearest clinic, get their check-up done in a frame of 24 hours twice and then proceed with the procedure to get aborted. Women in Texas could be living on a razor-thin timeline all the time. Needless to say, there is a lot of desperation and despair amongst the women as they flocked to clinics before the deadline to get themselves aborted. Women who missed the deadline and still want to get aborted will have to follow the new law, and only after the consent of the clinics will they be able to go ahead to abort.

The new law is harsh and needs a review at the number of weeks the law caps the abortion. Freedom to choose to give birth is the individual choice which the courts and the government must keep out as it defies the basic precincts of the constitution which guarantees basic human rights to the citizens. The future of the law depends on how the citizens, women's rights groups, abortion rights groups, and the might of the entire US government pursues the case and curtails its extension into being adopted into other states. The women of Texas need an intervention to save from the draconian law.

While the future course is debated, will this new law spike the sales of contraceptives and more responsible sexual interactions waits to be seen!