What Texas SB8 reflects about our society


Hannah L. Butler, Guest Columnist

On Sept. 1, Texas law SB8, also known as the Texas Heartbeat Act, went into effect. This is one of the most extreme abortion bans in the country, banning abortions once a fetal heartbeat is detected (around six weeks). However, the state is not enforcing the law. SB 8 is to be enforced by private citizens who can sue abortion providers and/or any people involved in assisting an individual seeking an abortion procedure. The law also provides no exceptions for cases of rape or incest. 

There are several problems with this. First, the law’s usage of the phrase “fetal heartbeat” is misleading. According to Dr. Saima Aftab, medical director of the Fetal Care Center at Nicklaus Children’s Hospital in Miami, this “heartbeat” detected at six weeks is more like a “flutter” in the area that will later become the heart. 

Second, most people do not learn that they are pregnant by the six-week mark. This means that many people may be denied abortions before they have even had time to make a decision. 

Finally, the provision that allows private citizens the right to sue anyone that they suspect to have aided an abortion is a direct attack on rights to privacy. 

The debate surrounding abortion has been around for decades, and most people have a clear idea of where they stand. But what does this bill reflect regarding our society’s views of women and their autonomy? To be clear, transgender men and non-binary people can also get pregnant and seek abortions, but for this piece I will be focusing on the specific aspects of abortion debates and legislation that have negative implications about women, not actual access to abortion services, which is an important topic for further discussion. 

When strict abortion bans and restrictions are put in place, we take away the autonomy of people affected by pregnancy. Pregnancy and childbirth take extraordinary mental and physical tolls on the mind and body, and although we are often told as children that it will be the most beautiful and rewarding experience of our lifetime, a lot of people do not want to experience it. Even those who do usually have plans or expectations about when and how they will experience it. Our agency is violated when bans and strict restrictions decide for us that we must endure pregnancy and childbirth on terms other than our own. 

One of the main arguments against abortion is that it is immoral because an embryo at six weeks – some will even go as far as to say a barely fertilized egg – is a human life and deserves the right to grow into a baby and be born. On the other side of the argument, many say that it is moral to abort a fetus before it can survive outside of the womb with a developed brain (excluding cases in the third trimester where the mother’s or baby’s life is in danger, but these are very rare). The thing is, there isn’t a scientific measure for morality. Morals are constructed by individuals; what is immoral to one may be moral to another. The real argument is about bodily autonomy. 

In our patriarchal society, women’s ideas, opinions, and health are not taken seriously. Supporters of these types of abortion bans do not grant women the right to bodily autonomy, which leads to the question of women’s roles in general. When our feelings and opinions are not considered in the abortion debate, and when we are not allowed to make our own decisions regarding our bodies and lives, it is clear that we are viewed as lesser. And when there are no exceptions for rape or incest, are we even viewed as human? Is a child not also a human life when they are impregnated by a family member and must endure the trauma of pregnancy and childbirth, on top of the trauma from the rape? 

Whether or not you think abortion is moral, some things are true of bans like SB8: they don’t actually reduce abortions, they disproportionately affect women of color and women in poverty, and they send the message that our society doesn’t value women as human beings. Those aspects are certainly immoral on my compass. 

Hannah L. Butler is a junior in communication studies and may be reached at [email protected]