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What the Texas Abortion Ban Means for People Seeking an Abortion

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Key Takeaways

  • A new Texas law bans abortion after six weeks of pregnancy, which is before many people know they are pregnant.
  • Abortion clinics and reproductive health providers will still be open in Texas but they will not be able to offer abortions after six weeks. They can still perform other healthcare services.
  • Those looking for an abortion after six weeks will need to travel out of state to receive one.

On Wednesday, September 1, a new law in Texas went into effect prohibiting a woman’s right to have an abortion after six weeks. Fetal heartbeats are usually detected by ultrasound at about six to seven weeks of pregnancy, says Tamika Cross, MD, FACOG, an OB/GYN based in Houston and co-owner of Serenity Women's Health & Med Spa.

The law, formally known as Senate Bill 8 (S.B. 8), is one of the most prohibitive abortion laws in the country. Although many states have tried to enact similar “heartbeat” laws, Texas is the first state to have one officially go into effect. As soon as the law was enacted, the Supreme Court refused to hear a case that would have blocked it, which means that the law is currently binding.

Many women (and genetically female people) are understandably concerned about what this means for their reproductive health care, especially if they reside in Texas.

Let’s look at the specifics of the law, what it means for anyone who is seeking an abortion in Texas, and what your options are if you are unable to get an abortion.

What to Know About the Texas Abortion Ban

The new law in Texas prohibits women from getting an abortion after a fetal heartbeat can be detected on an ultrasound. Experts estimate that 85% to 90% of abortions in Texas are in those who are at least six weeks pregnant, so this law will make most abortions in Texas illegal.

Although the law allows providers to perform abortions if the pregnant woman is experiencing a “medical emergency,” it makes no exceptions for women who become pregnant by rape or incest.

Additionally, the law allows anyone in the country to sue a person who helps or supports someone getting an abortion in Texas after the six-week mark. This includes healthcare providers, family members, friends, significant others, or abortion activists.

How Will This Law Change Your Ability to Get an Abortion in Texas?

Abortions can still be performed in Texas, but only in very early pregnancy. This can be a problem because many may not know they are pregnant during this window. If they do, they may not have had time to make an appointment for an abortion consultation.

Specifically, the law says that abortions cannot be performed once a “fetal heartbeat” is detected at about six weeks. This can be confusing, especially for those who find themselves pregnant and are considering abortion.

What Does Six Weeks Pregnant Mean?

There is sometimes some confusion about what “six weeks pregnant” means because pregnancy is measured starting with the first day of your last period rather than when you conceived. Adding to the confusion is the fact that many people’s periods are not always regular.

If you base the calculation on a typical 28-day menstrual cycle, you will be considered four weeks pregnant at around the time when your period is expected to arrive. That means that you have about two weeks past your missed period to get a legal abortion in Texas.

This is a very narrow window, explains Dr. Cross. “Even if you found out you were pregnant by then, trying to get scheduled for an abortion and have it performed all before this egregious deadline is virtually impossible,” she says.

Not only that, but Texas law requires a woman to visit an abortion provider at least two times before the procedure can be performed, which will add additional time to this already tight timeframe.

As Planned Parenthood explains in a Q&A on the new law, first you need to schedule a visit for an ultrasound. After that, you can make a visit for your procedure. If by the second ultrasound a fetal heartbeat is detected, you will no longer be able to get an abortion in Texas.

Can You Still Visit an Abortion Provider in Texas?

Abortion clinics and reproductive health providers will still be open in Texas, and they will be allowed to offer abortions to those who are less than six weeks pregnant or whose ultrasound does not show a fetal heartbeat. But if you are past this mark, abortion providers will not be able to provide an abortion for you.

“Women can still go to reproductive health providers after the six-week/detectable heartbeat mark, but they will not be able to offer them a termination regardless of the situation or the patient’s wishes,” says Dr. Cross.

However, providers can offer other reproductive services, such as reproductive counseling, basic gynecological care, and birth control.

Having proper birth control and a solid birth control plan in place will be more important than ever if you live in Texas, says Sophia Yen, MD, MPH, co-founder and CEO of Pandia Health, a women-led birth control delivery service. She recommends talking to your provider about your options.

What Other Abortion Options Do You Have?

Dr. Yen confirmed that the majority of people do not know they are pregnant at six weeks, and will therefore be ineligible for an abortion in Texas. There are some options for these people, though.

“Most likely, if you find out you’re pregnant and need an abortion, you will have to go out of state to get one,” Dr. Yen shares.

Unfortunately, abortion doctors and other healthcare personnel will not be able to help you find an out-of-state abortion or direct to resources for that, explains Dr. Yen. “If they help you, then they will be subject to jail [time],” she says.

Dr. Yen recommends contacting Planned Parenthood or the National Abortion Federation, organizations that will be able to direct you to resources, should you seek an out-of-state abortion.

Resources for Out-of-State Abortions

Getting an out-of-state abortion is not easy. Dr. Cross cites research estimating that the average driving distance for Texans seeking abortions has gone from about 12 miles to about 248 miles since the law went into effect.

Not only that, but getting an out-of-state abortion requires time off work, money for travel, and possible childcare for younger children. This is why many experts are expecting that the Texas abortion ban may have devastating effects on those in Texas who are seeking abortions, particularly lower-income people.

Fortunately, several organizations are coming together to ensure that those who need abortions in Texas will be connected to necessary resources.

Planned Parenthood confirms on their website that they can connect pregnant people to applicable resources for an abortion out of state. They can also connect you with financial resources so that you can make the trip, take time off of work, and secure childcare.

Dr. Cross recommends a few different organizations that may be able to help you, including the Lilith Fund, Buckle Bunnies, or the Afiya Center. Planned Parenthood advises that you visit ineedana.com for further resources and options.

How to Support People Affected by This Law 

If you live in another state and feel concerned about what is happening in Texas, there are several ways you can help. Dr. Yen recommends marching and protesting if you can. Contacting lawmakers and representatives about this issue is a good option as well.

You can also donate to Planned Parenthood and other organizations raising funds to ensure Texans have access to safe, out-of-state abortions.

What This Means For You

There are so many reasons why people seek abortions. Many are deeply personal, and many have to do with circumstances beyond a person’s control.

Major medical organizations, including the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), have condemned the Texas law. Organizations like Planned Parenthood are working tirelessly to advocate and to provide as many safe options for Texans who now find themselves unable to get the abortion care they need.

This is a difficult time for those seeking abortions. Please make use of any resources that are available to you, and contact your healthcare provider if you have any further questions.

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Article Sources
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  1. Planned Parenthood. Is abortion banned in Texas under S.B. 8? Published September 1, 2021.

  2. Whole Woman’s Health v Austin Reeve Jackson, Judge. 594 U.S. (2021).

  3. American Civil Liberties Union. Abortion stops in Texas after Supreme Court inaction. Published September 1, 2021.

  4. Legiscan.com. Bill text: TX SB8 | 2021-2022 | 87th Legislature | enrolled.

  5. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. When pregnancy goes past your due date. Updated June 2020.

  6. Planned Parenthood Center for Choice. Texas abortion laws. Updated September 1, 2021.

  7. Guttmacher Institute. Impact of Texas’ abortion ban: a 20-fold increase in driving distance to get an abortion. Updated September 1, 2021.

  8. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. ACOG responds to Texas abortion ban taking effect and how you can get involved. Published September 1, 2021.

  9. American Academy of Pediatrics. Leading physician groups oppose Texas legislation that threatens access to reproductive patient care. Published September 2, 2021.