On September 1st, 2021, Texas Governor Greg Abbott passed Senate Bill 8 (SB8) which bans abortion after the first signs of fetal heartbeat. There are no exceptions for pregnancies caused by rape, sexual abuse, or incest. Texas legislators claim that 6 weeks is plenty of time to get an abortion. However, this is not accurate or reasonable; not only is 6 weeks not the actual amount of time you have to get an abortion, the amount of time it takes to become aware of your pregnancy and to access abortion providers varies greatly by person. Furthermore, despite the “pro-life” sentiments associated with abortion bans, abortion restrictions compromise maternal health and disproportionately negatively affect people of color. Importantly, abortion legislation does not only affect cis women, but greatly impacts the health and safety of transgender and gender non-binary individuals with uteri as well. Let’s break down some of the misconceptions about pregnancy and abortion.
One of the biggest points of confusion in the conversation about abortion is the actual timeline of pregnancy. SB8 bans abortions after the first signs of heartbeat, which typically occur at around 6 weeks of pregnancy. This is why we are hearing “6 weeks” as the timeframe someone has to get an abortion. However, most of us outside of the medical field have biologically inaccurate perceptions of what “6 weeks pregnant” means. The common assumption that pregnancy begins with conception is not aligned with how medical professionals calculate pregnancy. Doctors and medical researchers define the beginning of pregnancy as the first day of an individual’s last menstrual period before conception. This means that when doctors say the first signs of heartbeat occur at around 6 weeks of pregnancy, their starting point is the first day of the person’s last menstrual period. So we can toss out any idea of “6 weeks” being relevant in any part of this time table.
Now that we have an understanding of the actual starting point for pregnancy, we can think about the timeline in which you could become aware of your pregnancy. Assuming your cycle is a regular 28 day cycle (which is not the case for many people), ovulation occurs about 2 weeks after the first day of your period. Ovulation is the approximately six-day part of the cycle when conception can occur if sperm fertilizes the egg. Once again making the (unlikely) assumption that your cycle is exactly 28 days, this means that the first missed period you notice would occur about 2 weeks after conception. It is also important to note that most people do not experience typical pregnancy symptoms (e.g. nausea, fatigue, tender breasts, etc.) until after 6 weeks of pregnancy. So, in an idealized version of this scenario, by the time you miss your period and first begin to suspect you could be pregnant, you are now 4 weeks pregnant (2 weeks from conception plus 2 weeks from the start of your last menstrual cycle). You now have 2 weeks to actually take a pregnancy test, meet with a doctor, schedule an abortion, and have the abortion. Again, this is a best case scenario where you have a regular 28 day cycle, immediately take a pregnancy test on the first day of your missed period, and are able to schedule and afford the medical visits and procedures required for an abortion to take place.
But what about the less than perfect cases? Let’s start by acknowledging the fact that in Texas, prior to the passing of SB8, more than 80% of abortions were performed AFTER 6 weeks of pregnancy. There are a multitude of factors that contribute to why it’s uncommon and unrealistic to have an abortion within the first 6 weeks of pregnancy. When you factor in irregularity of periods (According to the US Department of Health and Human Services, between 14-25% of individuals with uteri experience irregular periods), finding time to take a pregnancy test once you’ve noticed your missed period, finding time to schedule doctors appointments (and how your work schedule aligns with your doctor’s availability), let alone finding the emotional and mental space to make an enormous life decision, the chances of all of this coming together neatly within a maximum of two weeks seems laughable. For most individuals, this timetable is simply impossible.
To address the politicians saying this window of time is reasonable, let’s dig into some more problems with this timetable. Let’s say you’ve missed your period and immediately take a pregnancy test. It comes back positive, and in this unrealistic hypothetical you have no qualms about making the life altering decision of whether to bring life into this world and become a parent. You know with certainty that you want to get an abortion and waste no time scheduling an appointment with your doctor. But before you can actually get an abortion, you still have to jump through some hoops. The state of Texas requires you to have not one but two doctors appointments in this small two week window. Additionally, you must meet with the same doctor at both visits, and you must also wait a minimum of 24 hours after your first appointment before having an appointment to actually receive an abortion. It is also important to note that the availability of abortion providers in Texas has significantly dropped as a result of restrictive abortion laws like Texas House Bill 2 in 2013 and now SB8. Many healthcare providers in Texas are hesitant to perform abortions at all for fear of being sued retroactively, meaning there is no guarantee you’ll be able to get ahold of a doctor who can see you twice and perform an abortion in two weeks. Finally, health insurance in Texas does not cover abortions, so you would be paying out of pocket. The cost for a medication abortion is between $300-$800 and the cost for a procedure abortion is between $300-1,500. This does not include additional fees for follow up appointments after the abortion.
Although this should go without saying, SB8 is also wildly unconstitutional. In 1973, the Supreme Court (Roe v Wade) ruled that access to a safe and legal abortion is a right protected under the constitution. Later, in 1992, the Supreme Court case Planned Parenthood v. Casey affirmed that “the right of the woman to choose to have an abortion before viability and obtain it without undue interference from the state” was protected under the constitution. Viability refers to the point at which a fetus could survive outside of the womb, which is around 24 weeks. This constitutional right to have an abortion until a fetus is viable remains the Supreme Court precedent as of today.
Not only are abortion restrictions and bans violations of basic human rights, they are also dangerous. A new study showed that if all pregnancies that would have ended in abortion are now carried to term or miscarriage, the incidence of pregnancy-related deaths could increase by up to 21%. We should also remember that the injustice of having your rights stolen is only amplified when you are not of a high socioeconomic status, or to be frank, if you are not white. For example, in 2018 in Texas, Black people were almost twice as likely as white people to die from preventable causes because they did not receive the efficient medical attention they needed. The disparities in maternal health and mortality rate of infants is even more exacerbated. In 2019 in the United States, 44 black infants per 100,000 births did not survive compared to 17.9 white infants per 100,000 births. Restricting access to almost all abortions under the guidelines of SB8 will lead to more deaths of infants and mothers, will have harsher consequences for people of color and people of lower socioeconomic status, and is a nightmarish setback that reflects how little the voices of women, trans, and non-binary birthing people are valued.
Earlier this month, on 10/6/21, a federal judge temporarily blocked SB8, but this short reprieve from one of the most restrictive abortion bans in history lasted only two days. On 10/24/21 the Supreme Court again allowed the bill to remain in place. The road ahead to reversing SB8 is a long one, and it is essential that moving forward we support organizations and politicians that advocate for reproductive rights. Texas Governor Greg Abbott is running for re-election in November 2022, so residents of Texas should make sure they are registered to vote against his re-election.
For those of us living outside of Texas we can still show our support in other ways. One of the best places to donate is through ActBlue, which has compiled multiple funds dedicated to fighting for abortion rights, abortion research, emotional support for individuals receiving abortions, and providing transportation for individuals needing to travel out of state to access safe and legal abortions. You can also visit Planned Parenthood’s list of action items to support Texans which lists other ways you can get involved, from places to donate, to volunteer opportunities, to ways you can spread awareness by sharing your own story and experience with abortion.