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Gov. Greg Abbott signs 'fetal heartbeat' bill, banning most abortions in Texas

The bill bans abortion procedures at six weeks, when a fetal heartbeat is detected, unless there is a medical emergency.

AUSTIN, Texas — Texas Gov. Greg Abbott signed into law a controversial abortion bill Wednesday. 

Senate Bill 8, called The Texas Heartbeat Act, bans abortions once a fetal heartbeat is detected, which is typically at six weeks and before most women know they are pregnant. The bill does not make an exception for survivors of rape or incest who become pregnant as a result of the crime against them. It only allows an exception for medical emergencies.

The bill is considered a near ban on all abortions is because a heartbeat, which is defined in the bill as "cardiac activity," is typically detected at six weeks gestation. The gestation period starts on the first day of a woman's last menstrual cycle before pregnancy, which is about two weeks before she's even conceived the child. This is why most women don't know they're pregnant until after six weeks, at which time they will no longer be allowed to get an abortion.

SB8 differs from previous abortion bills passed in Texas because the state's top attorney won't enforce it, the public will. The bill states this law will be "exclusively enforced" through private civil action. Under the new law, nearly anyone can sue a doctor, provider or person, anywhere in the state, who performs, has intent to perform, or helps a woman get an abortion. The party suing can be awarded at least $10,000 and have their legal fees paid. The only exception is the person who rapes or commits incest against a woman and impregnates her can't sue. 

The law goes into effect Sept. 1.

"In Texas, we will always lead the way to protect the unborn. #ProLife," Abbott tweeted.

Abbott signed the bill on a Facebook Live feed Wednesday morning.

"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 the live video. "In Texas, we work to save those lives and that's exactly what the Texas Legislature did this session."

Texas is now the 15th state to pass a heartbeat act. The legislation was crafted by the group Faith2Action, which boasts itself as "the birthplace of the heartbeat bill." The group wrote a version of the bill and parts of it are in SB8 verbatim. 

On the Faith2Action website, leaders explain their reasoning for key provisions to the legislation, including not allowing an exception for rape or incest. The website states: 

"No other law allows for the killing of an innocent child for the crime of his or her father. None of us chose the manner in which we are conceived; it does not change our humanity."

Mary Castle is a policy advisor with Texas Values. She was at the bill signing.

"I'm very excited that the governor signed the heartbeat bill. We're just happy that a lot of lives will be saved with this legislation and we're just thankful for his support," Castle said.

Shannon Najmabadi, the women's health reporter for The Texas Tribune, joined Ashley Goudeau to discuss the bill on KVUE's Texas This Week. She said similar legislation has passed in other states.

"What's unique about the Texas bill is it also has this legal language in it that would let anyone, regardless of if they've had an abortion, regardless of if they had an experience with an abortion provider, to sue abortion providers," Najmabadi said. "So it kind of has a double-pronged approach where it's banning abortions very early, often before many women know they are pregnant, and also has these legal type changes." 

Rebecca Parma is a senior legislative associate with Texas Right to Life. She said this ban is different than the other heartbeat bills in other states.

"The ban being at six weeks is going to save thousands of preborn lives in Texas and the enforcement is a lot different with this heartbeat bill compared to the heartbeat bill passed in a lot of other states. Those bills are usually enjoined and so they don't go into effect. Well, the enforcement mechanism in this bill in Texas is a lot different. Normally pro-life laws are signed into law and immediately seized by the abortion industry because the state is in charge of enforcing that law," said Parma.

While “heartbeat” bills passed by other state houses have been blocked by the courts, Texas lawmakers believe the legal language in their version makes it stronger, the Texas Tribune reported. Democrats say so-called heartbeat bills across the country is part of a political strategy to ban abortion across the country. 

Advocates who oppose the bill say the same.

"Signing this bill into law doesn’t change the fact that most Texans believe abortion should be accessible and that everyone should be free to determine the course of their own reproductive lives, including whether and when to become a parent," said the Texas Freedom Network in a written statement after Abbott signed the bill. "This law doesn’t just have government interfere in these decisions, but also gives virtually anyone the ability to legally harass and try to financially ruin a physician, family member or friend who helps someone obtain an abortion. This bill is about little more than anti-abortion extremists trying to control and shame people for making health care decision(s) they don’t like.”

RELATED: Texas joins other states trying to enact abortion laws

"The majority of people in this country have abortions over six weeks," Amy Hagstrom Miller, the CEO of Whole Woman's Health, said. "Most people don't even know they're pregnant when they're less than six weeks into the pregnancy."

"This legislation sets our organization up for being sued by anyone in the state if they suspect that we would provide an abortion to someone beyond six weeks," Rev. Deneen Robinson, from The Afiya Center in Dallas, said. "That is causing us to now have to think about how we provide care because the majority of the people we serve don't get to us until they're 18 to 20 weeks."

The American Civil Liberties Union echoed this concern.

"Not just doctors and patients, but anybody who supports someone who gets an abortion that could include a crisis counselor, that could include a loved one, that could include a partner, that could include somebody who just drives somebody to the clinic, is now open to what is essentially unlimited liability. And there is no cap for the amount of damages you could be liable for if you assist somebody who needs an abortion," said Drucilla Tigner, a policy and advocacy strategist with ACLU.  

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