A bill to effectively ban abortion by making the procedure illegal after a fetal heartbeat is detected has the support of more than 40 lawmakers in the House, including several legislators who could advance the bill out of a key committee.
The Republican-backed bill is one of several filed in more than a dozen states across the country as anti-abortion advocates push legislation with the potential to overturn a constitutional right to abortion in the nation’s highest court.
“Just as a heart is the universal sign of Valentine’s Day, a beating heart is the universal sign of life,” said the bill’s author, State Rep. Briscoe Cain, R-Deer Park, in a statement. “I am humbled to see the growing wave of support this and other heartbeat bills are receiving across the country.”
A heartbeat can be detected in a fetus around six weeks, which is before most women know they are pregnant. Texas now bans abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy, except when the life of the mother is at stake or the fetus has a severe abnormality.
Anti-abortion groups want to challenge the constitutional right to abortion established in Roe v. Wade by testing the more conservative U.S. Supreme Court that now includes two of President Donald Trump’s appointees. So-called “heartbeat bills” have been filed in several states, like Florida and New York.
In Mississippi, the Legislature approved one such bill last week. The bill permits exceptions if the pregnancy threatens a woman’s life, but no exception for pregnancies resulting from incest or rape.
In Kentucky, lawmakers played the sound of a fetal heartbeat moments before approving the bill in a Senate committee. A constituent of the bill’s lead author offered the audio, saying she thought the sound of her unborn baby’s heartbeat would be a “powerful noise” before the vote, according to the Associated Press.
Abortion advocates in Texas lambasted the bill as an attempt by lawmakers to insert themselves between women and their doctors.
“If this ban goes into effect, it will block virtually all abortions in the state,” said Yvonne Gutierrez, executive director of Planned Parenthood Texas Votes. “Texas has already passed major pieces of legislation that have hugely and dangerously impacted access to abortion in the state of Texas.”
Texas is one of the leading states in the nation to curtail access to abortion. Legislators here have filed more than a dozen other bills this year to further restrict abortion rights.
In 2017, the Republican-led Texas Legislature approved a bill that banned a common second-term abortion procedure and required the fetal or embryonic remains of an aborted pregnancy to be buried or cremated. Both were quickly challenged in court and are now on appeal in the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
Rep. Dade Phelan, R-Beaumont, chairs the House State Affairs Committee which has historically vetted bills regarding abortion. He has said he doesn’t see the House passing unconstitutional legislation this year. Although he has a 100 percent record from Texas Right to Life, he did not register official support for the bill.
All 44 lawmakers who signed on to support the Texas heartbeat bill are Republicans, and all but three are men.
Seven of the bill’s supporters in the House sit on the 13-member House State Affairs Committee. That could give the measure enough support to propel it to a vote of the full 150-member House — should it be referred to that committee, which includes 12 men and one woman.
House Speaker Dennis Bonnen, who also has a 100 percent voting record from Texas Right to Life, has yet to assign the heartbeat bill to a committee. The speaker could assign the measure to the House Human Services Committee, which oversees the Health and Human Services Commission. Of the nine members of that committee, four are official supporters of the bill.
While popular among Republican voters, abolishing abortion was one of the least supported ideas among those who voted in the 2018 primary election, according to election results. When asked whether abortion should be abolished in Texas, 68 percent of Republican primary voters voted yes.
Other issues, like making voter fraud a felony and capping property taxes received more than 90 percent of the vote.
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