The Texas House is one step closer to passing a contentious bill that would ban abortions the moment a fetal heartbeat is detected.
After passing on second reading Wednesday, the highly-debated bill loaded with other hotly contested provisions, now faces final passage from the House. The Senate would also have to agree with any changes made in the lower chamber before heading to Gov. Greg Abbott, who has already made it known that he will sign it if it arrives at his desk. The Senate already has approved it.
The proposal from Sen. Bryan Hughes, R-Mineola, and carried in the House by Rep. Shelby Slawson, R-Stephenville, is labeled as a “heartbeat bill” by abortion opponents for its provision that bans abortion as early as six weeks, before many women are aware of their pregnancy.
But, abortion rights advocates have flagged the label as a “smoke screen” for another key provision that has resulted in hours of debate throughout the session: The bill would allow private citizens to sue abortion providers or anybody who knowingly “aids or abets” a procedure that violates the ban. The measure includes an exception if the life of the woman is in danger, but not for rape or incest.
The debate featured several stark divides between abortion rights advocates and their opponents, including fundamental disagreements over science, faith and whether lawmakers should pass such a proposal. After heated back-and-forth with little to no common ground between both sides, the House passed HB 8 on second reading with a 81-63 vote.
“We’ve had this discussion way too many times since I’ve been here” Rep. Donna Howard, D-Austin, said. “This is the worst day of the session every single session, and this stuff keeps coming up. You guys know that there have always been abortions and there always will be.”
Slawson responded, “This is the best day for tens of thousands of unborn children in this state.”
“For far too long, abortion has meant the end of a beating heart, but through this –– The Texas Heartbeat Act –– that beautiful melody of a beating heart will mean the protection of those innocent unborn lives in Texas,” Slawson later said as she closed on the bill.
Slawson offered an amendment, which was adopted, that clarifies a cause of action may not be brought upon by a person who impregnated the abortion patient through an act of rape, sexual assault or incest.
Opponents to the bill still voiced significant concern over the potential of frivolous lawsuits brought by any private citizen, not just Texans, against abortion providers along with everybody else who falls into the category of intentionally aiding or abetting an abortion.