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Texas Lawmakers File Bill That Could Ban Abortions as Early as Six Weeks

Texas Lawmakers File Bill That Could Ban Abortions as Early as Six Weeks

July 22, 2013 — Three Republican members of the Texas House on Thursday filed a "fetal heartbeat" measure that would take effect only if states are granted authority to regulate abortion through the overturning of Roe v. Wade or a constitutional amendment or interpretation, Salon reports.

The so-called "trigger provision" would ban abortion after six weeks of pregnancy. According to the bill's text, it would be enacted 90 days after "a finding of fact made by the attorney general that: (1) the United States Supreme Court has issued a decision overruling Roe v. Wade, 410 U.S. 113 (1973); (2) any other state or federal court has issued an order or judgment restoring, expanding, or clarifying the authority of states to wholly or partly prohibit or regulate abortion under the United States Constitution; or (3) an amendment to the United States Constitution that restores, expands, or clarifies the authority of states to wholly or partly prohibit or regulate abortion has been adopted."

According to Salon, the proposal will likely spur the protest of abortion-rights supporters who were galvanized into action over the passage of an antiabortion-rights omnibus measure (HB 2) earlier this month. However, no groups have yet commented on the measure.

The proposal might also incur criticism from abortion-rights opponents, who note that such narrow abortion restrictions are unlikely to survive legal challenges, Salon reports. For example, James Bopp -- an antiabortion-rights lawyer who opposed a 12-week ban (Act 301) in Arkansas -- explained in a New York Times interview, "As much as we would like to protect the unborn at that point, it is futile and it won't save any babies." Similarly, North Dakota Gov. Jack Dalrymple (R) in signing a six-week abortion ban (HB 1456) into law, acknowledged that the "likelihood of this measure surviving a court challenge remains in question" (McDonough, Salon, 7/18).

20-Week Definition Crux of Constitutionality, Care

How states like Texas define 20 weeks of pregnancy "may cause headaches for women and their doctors -- and ultimately affect whether these laws pass constitutional muster," NPR's "Morning Edition" reports. While physicians use a woman's last menstrual period to refer to the weeks of pregnancy, most states with abortion ban legislation are using fertilization as the measure.

Elizabeth Nash of the Guttmacher Institute said, "What we're seeing with these laws is that they are pegging the beginning of pregnancy to fertilization. So when we talk about a law that bans abortion at 20 weeks post-fertilization, we're really talking about a law that bans abortion at 22 weeks of pregnancy."

Regardless of the measure, the 20-week laws would ban abortion earlier than viability, according to Daniel Grossman, an assistant professor of obstetrics, gynecology and reproductive sciences at the University of California-San Francisco. Grossman, also a vice president at IBIS Reproductive Health, said, "I think there's definitely consensus that viability doesn't happen before 24 menstrual weeks. So when we're talking about banning abortion at 20 or 22 weeks even, that's clearly at least two weeks before the earliest point in pregnancy where viability would be a concern" (Rovner, "Morning Edition," NPR, 7/22).

Op-Ed: Economic Policy, Not Abortion Bans, Better Indicator of Women's Well-Being

Liberal activists should spend more time focusing on economic issues to improve women's well-being rather than fighting against abortion bans, New York Times columnist Ross Douthat argues in an opinion piece.

Choosing to compare abortion policies in the U.S. with those of other "wealthy, liberal and egalitarian societ[ies]," Douthat points out that France, Germany and Italy -- which "all ban abortions after the first trimester, and impose waiting periods as well" -- have lower abortion rates than the U.S. Further, "none of them are exactly reactionary dystopias in the style of Margaret Atwood's "Handmaid's Tale," suggesting that "at least some abortion restrictions are compatible with equality and female advancement," he writes. Similarly, Ireland, despite a "near absolute abortion ban," ranks well on several different measurements of maternal health and economic opportunity for women, he adds.

Douthat notes that the European and Irish abortion restrictions "coexist with universal health care, which [Texas Gov.] Rick Perry's [R] state conspicuously lacks." He posits, "So perhaps, it might be argued, abortion can be safely limited only when the government does more to cover women's costs in other ways -- in which case Texas might still be flirting with disaster. But note that this is a better argument for liberalism than for abortion."

He continues, "It suggests, for instance that liberal donors and activists should be spending more time rallying against Perry's refusal to take federal Medicaid financing than around Wendy Davis's famous filibuster. It implies that the quest to 'turn Texas blue' should make economic policy rather than late-term abortion its defining issue." He concludes, "And it raises the possibility that a pro-life liberalism -- that once-commonplace, now-mythical persuasion -- would actually have a stronger argument to make than the one Texas's critics are making now" (Douthat, New York Times, 7/20).