Texas further limited abortion in a little-noticed move recently.
Shortly after Texas banned abortions once a fetal heartbeat was detected, Gov. Greg Abbott last month signed a law to halt the mailing of abortion drugs into the state and limited the distribution of the medication to the first seven weeks of pregnancy.
The newest legislation in the state restricting abortions, known as Senate Bill 4, doesn’t allow women to receive the abortion-inducing medication by mail in Texas and limits the pill’s use to the first seven weeks of pregnancy, around the time a fetal heartbeat could be detected — usually between six to eight weeks. The federal government, meanwhile, allows the drug to be used during the first 10 weeks.
Medication abortion includes the use of two drugs taken 24 to 48 hours apart to end the pregnancy.
Under the law, which takes effect Dec. 1, doctors can provide the drug to women who are early in their pregnancy. If someone violates the law, they are subject to jail time, making it a criminal offense.
The new legislation has received little attention compared to Texas’ Senate Bill 8, which has been at the center of lawsuits in and out of the state.
The heartbeat law bans abortion after the fetal heartbeat is detected, allowing individuals to sue anyone who violates the law.
Lois Shepherd, a health law professor at the University of Virginia, says she expects to see litigation against SB 4, noting the Food and Drug Administration allows the medication to be used for up to 10 weeks —not seven.
It also keeps the drug from being mailed to Texas women from outside the state, although the federal government is allowing the mailing of medication during the coronavirus pandemic. Other Republican-led states have been passing legislation to restrict the distribution of the drug by mail, according to The Associated Press.
“This is a way to close a bit of a ‘loophole’ for women seeking abortions in Texas,” Ms. Shepherd said. “Restrictions on medical abortions are not new, either. A lot of states have laws that restrict access to medical abortion, often in the name of patient safety, but really just another mechanism to restrict access.”
But the Texas lawmaker who drafted the bill, a pro-life Democrat, said it was necessary because even the federal government — for decades — has recognized that abortion medication carries a safety risk.
“This bill states that the medication must be given in person. As a pro-life Democrat, it is bad enough that we are losing one life to abortion; we shouldn’t be losing two lives if the mother were to die,” said Texas state Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr.
He said in the national debate over abortion, pro-life Democrats are often not heard.
“What many people do not hear is the Democratic support of pro-life measures in my district. I represent the Rio Grande Valley on the Texas-Mexico border. There are many pro-life Democrats in this area whose voice rarely makes it into the national debate,” Mr. Lucio said.
SB 4 was passed by the Texas legislature in August, prior to SB 8 going into effect on Sept. 1. Still, critics say it’s just another way for Texas to further limit abortion services.
Pro-choice legal groups like the Center for Reproductive Rights, the American Civil Liberties Union or the National Women’s Law Center have yet to file suit against the law. The organizations did not respond to a request for comment about the new Texas law from The Washington Times.
Mr. Abbott signed SB 4 on Sept. 24, saying his state continues to lead on protecting the lives of unborn children.
“This year, we have witnessed the Biden administration temporarily lift restrictions on abortion-inducing drugs and heard from those who want to permanently roll back safety protocols in place to pregnant women. We will not allow this to happen in Texas, which is why Senate Bill 4 will not only ban abortion-inducing drugs in Texas, but it also prevents a physician from providing these drugs to patients who are more than seven weeks along in their pregnancy,” he said.
“We have taken monumental steps to save babies from the ravages of abortion — and we will continue to ensure Texas remains a pro-life state,” Mr. Abbott added.
According to the pro-choice Guttmacher Institute, 32 states had laws that require a physician to distribute the medication. In 19 of those states, the physician was required to be present when the drug was given.
In July 2020, the federal government eased restrictions on the medication, allowing it to be distributed by mail during the coronavirus pandemic.
Medication abortion makes up about 40% of abortions in the United States, according to AP. It’s been available since 2000.