The Texas Senate voted in favor of seven partisan bills that would further restrict access to abortions across the state. The legislation passed two formal votes on Monday and is expected to be approved today in the upper chamber before moving to the House for consideration.
Included among the bills is the controversial measure that bans abortions once a fetal heartbeat is detected – roughly six weeks into a pregnancy. Senate Bill 8—popularly known as the heartbeat bill—would ban abortions before mothers are aware of their pregnancy and establishes civil liability for abortion providers. Authored by Sen. Bryan Hughes (R-TX), the legislation contains an exception for medical emergencies, but not for cases of rape or incest – an omission opponents consider extreme.
Described as Hughes as intended to “protect our most vulnerable Texans when the heartbeat is present,” the bill was passed by 19-12 along staunchly partisan lines. Democrat Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr. was the only lawmaker to break with his party, voting in favor of the legislation after stating his belief that life begins at conception.
Accompanying proposals addressed drug-induced abortions, perinatal palliative care, and logistical support provided by government entities. Senate Bill 9 would make abortion procedures a criminal offence and introduce a civil penalty for doctors who perform the procedures. If efforts to repeal Roe v. Wade in the U.S. Supreme Court prove successful, the legislation would establish a total abortion ban in the state.
Texas GOP leadership has listed abortion-related measures as a top priority for the 87th Legislative Session. However, the proposals have received intense push-back from Democrats and abortion-rights advocates who have described them as radical and misaligned with the wants of Texans.
“Regardless of how you try to dress up an unconstitutional bill, it is still unconstitutional,” said Elisabeth Smith, chief counsel for state advocacy and policy at the Center for Reproductive Rights.