States That Have Tried to Enact 'Fetal Heartbeat' Abortion Bills Following Texas Ban

Texas has become one of the most restrictive states in the U.S. in terms of abortion access after the U.S. Supreme Court did not take action to prevent one of the state's new laws from going into effect.

The law, Senate Bill 8, is a near-total ban on abortion in the state and prohibits doctors from performing an abortion if there is what the bill calls a "fetal heartbeat," a controversial term defined by the bill as "cardiac activity or the steady and repetitive rhythmic contraction of the fetal heart within the gestational sac."

The term "fetal heartbeat" has been criticized by supporters of pro-abortion rights as misleading.

Dr Jennifer Gunter, a gynecologist and women's health author, has stressed a distinction between a human heart and what is known as the fetal pole, which is a four millimeter growth in the early embryo that displays detectable activity around six weeks into development.

In any case, this roughly six-week mark is now the time at which Texans are prohibited from getting an abortion—a time at which many women don't even know they're pregnant.

Texas is not the first state to have proposed some version of the restrictive new law.

Most states that have tried to pass a six-week fetal pole activity bill, or so-called "fetal heartbeat" bill, have been blocked by the U.S. Supreme Court because of precedent set by the landmark Roe v. Wade case in 1973, in which abortion was declared to be a constitutional right.

According to Reuters, states have been passing fetal pole activity bills in the hope that the Supreme Court will eventually revoke the 1973 decision. A wave of such bills swept across a number of states in 2019 and in 2020.

In February last year a federal appeals court kept a block on a Mississippi law that sought to ban abortions at around six weeks. A fetal pole activity bill was blocked in Kentucky in March 2019. One was struck down in Georgia in July 2020. Others include Ohio in July 2019, and Missouri in June this year (which was at or after eight weeks of pregnancy).

Alabama attempted to go even further, effectively banning most abortions from conception onwards. This was also blocked temporarily in 2019.

The barrage of anti-abortion bills highlight an increasing push by so-called "Bible Belt" states to make abortion hard or almost impossible to obtain.

According to the Guttmacher Institute, a reproductive health organization, states enacted 483 new abortion restrictions between January 1, 2011 and July 1, 2019.

Greg Abbott
Texas governor Greg Abbott speaking at an event in Dallas, Texas, in May 2018. The state was recently allowed to enact a new restrictive abortion bill. Justin Sullivan/Getty