On the same day that Texas Governor Rick Perry signed a controversial abortion omnibus bill into law, Republican legislators in the state introduced yet another anti-abortion measure, this time looking to ban abortions after 6 weeks. And while it seems very unlikely at this point that the bill will make it through the state's legislative process by July 31, the end of the current special legislative session in Texas, the timing is still drawing a decent bit of attention.
There's only one state in the U.S. with an abortion ban after 6 weeks: North Dakota. And that law is being challenged in the courts as unconstitutional. The 6-week bans, like the one proposed in Texas, rely upon the detection of a fetal heartbeat by a doctor. Arguing that a fetal heartbeat is "a key medical predictor that an unborn child will reach live birth," the Texas bill, HB59, would require doctors to determine whether a fetal heartbeat exists before legally performing an abortion. Fetal heartbeats typically register at around 6 weeks, meaning that the bill would effectively make that the cut off for the procedure.
Like Texas's new abortion law, which, among other things, bans abortions after 20 weeks, the bill directly challenges the current constitutional standard for determining the legality of the procedure. Based on the Roe v. Wade decision, that standard is fetal "viability," which state laws usually set at about 24 weeks. The new 20-week law, by comparison, uses "fetal pain," a scientifically challenged notion that fetuses feel pain at that point, to set a new legal limit to abortions.