The heartbeat bill epidemic

As a young woman in the United States, I am used to my reproductive rights coming under question. So it came as no surprise when the Texas Heartbeat bill was passed May 19, prohibiting abortion after cardiac activity is detected (after six to eight weeks of pregnancy), a time when many women do not know they are pregnant.

On Sept. 1 when the bill was enacted, I felt a panic rush over me. Not just for the women I know in my community feeling the bill’s effects, but for the girls hundreds of miles away in Texas who just had their rights stolen from them.

On Oct. 6, when the bill was temporarily blocked by a federal judge, I did not allow myself to feel a sense of relief. This bill was not the first of its kind, and I knew it wouldn’t be the last.

Since Roe V. Wade was passed in 1973, states nationwide have attempted to pass “heartbeat bills” just like Texas’s that severely hinder access to safe and legal abortions. The New York Times reported that in 2019, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Missouri, Mississippi, and Ohio passed “heartbeat bills” that effectively prohibit abortions for women after anywhere between six to eight weeks pregnant.

Like many others before it, this new Texas law has been coined misleadingly as a “heartbeat bill.” The name is medically inaccurate because an embryo does not have a fully developed heart at six weeks’ gestation. The name seems to be just another ploy to control women’s bodies. While the women in Texas may be in the clear temporarily, this surely will not be the last attack on abortion access. What can we do to prevent this from happening in the future? And perhaps more importantly, why does it need to be prevented?

In 2018, Diana Greene Foster, a professor at the University of California-San Francisco who specializes in evaluating the effectiveness of family planning policies, and some of her collegues conducted a study investigating the health, development, maternal bonding, and financial status of children born after their mothers were denied abortions. The research found that these children were more likely to have poor maternal bonding and to live below the poverty line than other children.

When abortion access is taken away, it not only affects the women seeking abortions, but the children who are born as a result of denied abortions. The conclusion of the study states that the findings suggest “that access to abortion enables women to choose to have their children at a time when they have more financial and emotional resources to devote to their children.”

No matter the circumstances, no one should ever be forced to have a child. Maybe the mother doesn’t have the money, maybe she is not healthy enough, or maybe she just does not want to. It is unfair to the mother and to the child, who is being brought into a household that might not be able to properly care for them.

I hope that one day reproductive rights will no longer be under attack, that abortions will be available without question to anyone. I don’t want to have to defend something that should never have been taken away in the first place.