Gov. Greg Abbott signed into law Wednesday legislation that prohibits abortion once a fetal heartbeat is detected, effectively banning most abortions in the state.
The restriction puts Texas at the vanguard among states challenging the boundaries of Roe v. Wade, the 1973 landmark Supreme Court case that established a woman’s legal right to an abortion.
The measure, a priority for Republican lawmakers during this year’s legislative session, would allow virtually any private citizen to sue an abortion provider or others who “aid and abet” an abortion in violation of the new ban.
The bill passed easily through both the Senate and House, despite fervent opposition from Democrats. Abbott indicated support of the measure early in session and made good on his pledge to sign it on Wednesday, at a ceremony that was closed to members of the press.
“Our creator endowed us with the right to life, and yet millions of children lose their right to life every year because of abortion,” Abbott said during a live video of the ceremony shared to Facebook. “In Texas, we work to save those lives and that’s exactly what the Texas Legislature did this session.”
Abbott exaggerated the number of abortions performed in Texas each year. In 2020, the state reported about 53,000 abortions, according to data from the state’s Health and Human Services Commission. The data shows that the number of abortions performed in Texas annually has declined dramatically since 2001.
The new law is slated to go into effect on Sept. 1. At that point, abortions will only be allowed in Texas prior to the presence of a fetal heartbeat, baring a medical emergency.
There is not a specific timeframe tied to the restriction, and fetal heartbeats can be detected as early as six weeks gestation — or six weeks from a woman’s last menstrual period, not since the start of her pregnancy — according to the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.