SB 8 currently is being heard in front of the U.S. Supreme Court.
Also known as the Heartbeat Bill, isn't Texas' first attempt at limiting abortion access in the state. We take a look at a milestone abortion cases and law in Texas, including Roe v. Wade — the case that eventually led to abortion being made legal across the country.
Abortion is made illegal in Texas
What: The procedure was made illegal in the state with only one exception — it could be performed if the women's life was at risk. Anyone found to have helped in the fetal death also was subject to be charged as an accomplice.
Punishment: Two to five years in prison
Jane Roe challenges Texas abortion law
What: Roe was a single, pregnant women who wanted an abortion even though she did not meet the requirements that allowed women to do so legally in Texas. She had a physician who supported her claim, saying that knowing whether a woman fit the parameters of someone who could legally receive an abortion sometimes was a grey area. They both claimed that the law violated the U.S. Constitution. Her complaint was followed by that of a married couple in which the woman argued she was subject to medical complications if she became pregnant, but her life would not necessarily be threatened.
Roe v. Wade
What: The case, originally presented as a class-action lawsuit, proceded to the U.S. Supreme Court with only Jane Roe (aka Norma McCorvey) directly suing Dallas County District Attorney Henry Wade. SCOTUS decided the other two cases weren't strong enough to be heard. The court ultimately decided that Jane Roe's constitutional rights had been violated by the Texas statutes of the time, but disagreed that she was entitled to an abortion by any means. In his majority opinion, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Harry A. Blackmun he said that the state wasn't allowed to limit fundamental rights such as life and liberty unless there was a "compelling state interest" in doing so.
The states health and safety codes were amended and re-amended through the 1980s and 1990s, setting guidelines for who could legally perform the procedures and where they could be performed. Reports state that practitioners were limited to licensed physicians in 1992, but the first reference KRIS 6 News was able to locate in state statutes came in 2003 with the Women's Right to Know Act. Medical professionals and private hospitals which opposed abortions also could opt out of participating in the procedure.
Women's Right to Know Act
When: passed 2003, enacted 2004
What supporters say: The information provided by Texas Health and Human Services provides booklets that states that women considering an abortion can't be coerced into having the procedure done, and outlines necessary steps such as how a sonogram must be performed and that a doctor must "allow you to see your baby," describe it, and have the patient listen to the fetal heartbeat. The woman also is informed they mush wait 24 hours before the procedure can be performed. It also outlines fetal development and states in red lettering that "babies develop the ability to feel pain while in the womb," despite Merriam-Webster defining an unborn, developing human as a fetus.
What opponents say: The ACLU of Texas states the information in the literature is misleading. It also took exception with abortions performed after 16 weeks having to be done in ambulatory surgical centers, since none of the states' abortion providers at the time fit the criteria.
What: Abortions after 24 weeks gestation were banned, and patients under 18 years old were required to have a parent's permission to have the procedure.
What: Under the Women's Right to Know Act, women were given the option of seeing the fetus. When this law was passed, the option became a requirement at least 24 hours prior, in order to have an abortion. Family planning clinics also reportedly began seeing reduced state funding.
Previous attempt at 'fetal heartbeat bill'
What: The bill was tacked on following a swath of anti-abortion legislation, including requiring all facilities in the state that were performing abortions to meet hospital-grade standards. Doctors performing abortions also were also required to have admitting privileges in a hospital within 30 miles. Those laws were overturned by SCOTUS in 2016. Abortions after 20 weeks gestation also were made illegal unless the woman's life is at risk or the fetus has severe medical issues. On the heels of those measures being made law, then-State Rep. Phil King (R-Weatherford) proposed HB 59, the first fetal heartbeat bill that would make abortions at six weeks' gestation illegal. It failed.
Second-trimester procedure banned
What: A procedure known as dilation and evacuation was banned. It was the most common form of second-trimester abortion.
What pro-life supporters say: They termed the procedure 'dismemberment abortion,' and argue it is barbaric.
What pro-choice supporters say: In a New York Times story about the case, it cites the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists as saying that the procedure is the safest way in which to perform a second-term abortion. It also cites Whole Woman's Health president Amy Hagstrom Miller said at the time that it was an "unprecedented intrusion into the doctor-patient relationship."
In 2017 and 2019, new 'fetal heartbeat bills' were introduced and gained popularity, leading to the passage of 2021's SB8.