AUSTIN, Texas — A Florida state representative has introduced an abortion bill weeks after Texas’ new abortion law went into effect.
State Rep. Webster Barnaby’s bill would require doctors to alert women who are seeking an abortion if a “fetal heartbeat” is detectable and prohibits a physician from conducting an abortion if it’s detected. This can occur six to eight weeks into a pregnancy. Current Florida law allows for abortions to be conducted up to 24 weeks into gestation except in cases of life or health endangerment.
Texas’ abortion law limits abortions in a similar time period. Here’s how the two pieces of state policy compare:
Why Texas’ abortion law amounts to a ban on abortion
Texas Senate Bill 8 went into effect on Sept 1. It bans abortions six weeks after a person’s last menstrual period.
Women who become pregnant often do not know they are pregnant until after six weeks of gestation. Gestational age begins at the end of a previous menstrual cycle, and the usual first sign of pregnancy is missing a period, which typically occurs every 28 days. For those who experience irregular periods, the process may take longer.
A University of Texas study found about 85% to 90% of abortions in the state are performed on people past that six-week mark, according to reproductive health clinics, meaning the law bans nearly all abortions in the state.
Florida’s bill was introduced on Wednesday. Should it pass and be signed into law, it would go into effect on July 1, 2022. If passed, Florida would join at least 11 other states that have passed similar “heartbeat” bills.
Texas’ state law is referred to as the “Texas Heartbeat Act,” but medical experts say that’s a misnomer. It bans abortion when “cardiac activity or the steady and repetitive rhythmic contraction of the fetal heart within the gestational sac.”
In Florida, Rep. Barnaby’s bill defines a “heartbeat” in the exact same way.
Dr. Kristyn Brandi, board chair of Physicians for Reproductive Health and an abortion provider in New Jersey, told PolitiFact that framing this as a heartbeat is “medically inaccurate” because the fetus has not actually developed a heart during this early stage.
“What they are referring to is being able to visualize electric activity in the cells that will eventually become a heart,” Brandi said.
Electric impulses are captured by the ultrasound machine to create the sound despite no cardiac valves creating that sound, according to Dr. Nisha Verma, an abortion provider and a fellow at the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, a professional organization.
“Those electric impulses do not make the sound of a heartbeat on their own, nor do they suggest that the heart is now developed,” Verma said. “This is not a particularly important part of fetal cardiac development, even though it may be an important moment for my patients who are connecting with their pregnancies.”
Under the Florida bill, state and local government would not enforce the law. Instead, action would be taken through civil lawsuits. These suits could be filed against both women seeking an abortion and a doctor who performs them. They can also be filed against those who aid and abet those seeking an abortion.
Successful claimants can claim as much as $10,000 per abortion performed.
The same is true in Texas under the state’s current abortion law, where some have referred to the setup as a bounty system. Two lawsuits have already been filed against a San Antonio doctor who admitted to violating the ban.
“Well, that’s the law, and I want that $10,000,” Oscar Stilley, a disbarred lawyer in Arkansas, said when explaining why he was filing the suit. “I intend to be the fastest gun in the West.”
The U.S. Justice Department is challenging the law’s constitutionality after the Supreme Court allowed the law to stand. The department has asked a federal judge in Austin to issue an emergency court order to block enforcement of the ban.
Are there abortion exceptions for rape, incest?
Texas’ abortion law has no exceptions for cases of rape or incest, but the proposed Florida bill does.
Barnaby’s bill would require documentation as evidence to show the woman seeking an abortion was a victim of rape, incest, domestic violence, human trafficking or having a physical condition that would create substantial risk to the women’s health.
Reporting rape:Gov. Greg Abbott wants to eliminate rape. More than 90% of sexual assault cases in Texas are never reported.
Texas’ law does have an exception for abortion in cases of medical emergencies.
Both bills do not contain the term “fetus.” Instead, they use the term “unborn child” as part of the definition for an abortion. Texas’ law uses the term just once when defining terms used in the bill but the Florida bill uses the phrase 56 times.
It includes a new definition for abortion, describing it as “the termination of human pregnancy with an intention other than to produce a live birth or to remove a dead unborn child.”
The CDC defines abortion as a legally permitted procedure done by a licensed clinician “that is intended to terminate a suspected or known ongoing intrauterine pregnancy and that does not result in a live birth.”
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