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After initial vote in Texas House, anti-abortion 'heartbeat' law likely to land on governor's desk

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Protesters hold signs at a pro-Planned Parenthood rally in San Antonio. - MICHAEL BARAJAS
  • Michael Barajas
  • Protesters hold signs at a pro-Planned Parenthood rally in San Antonio.
The Texas Legislature is on the cusp of passing a contentious bill that would ban abortions after a fetal heartbeat is detected, something that usually occurs as early as six weeks into a pregnancy.

Senate Bill 8 passed an initial House floor vote Wednesday after receiving approval earlier this session from the upper chamber. It now must receive a second vote in the House before being passed to Gov. Greg Abbott, who's likely to sign it into law. The vote was 81-63.

Abortion-rights groups warn the bill will stop many women from being able to obtain the procedure before they're even aware they're pregnant. Further, it fails to provide exceptions in cases of rape or incest.

“We’ve had this discussion way too many times since I’ve been here,” said Rep. Donna Howard, D-Austin, during emotionally charged debate on the proposal. “This is the worst day of the session every single session, and this stuff keeps coming up. You guys know that there have always been abortions and there always will be.”

Opponents of SB8 also argue the bill would subject medical professionals and others to frivolous lawsuits by allowing virtually anyone to sue abortion providers or anyone who "aids or abets" women who get abortions in violation of the proposed law.

In a letter, roughly 400 Texas attorneys warned that the bill's broad language would throw the legal system into chaos and "impose liability on people whose actions were legal at the time they took them."

Courts have repeatedly smacked down “heartbeat” bills passed by other GOP-dominated state legislatures as unconstitutional, and it's all but certain SB8 would be challenged in court if signed by Abbott.

Even so, supporters of the bill have argued that its legal language will make it more likely to stand up in court. Republican lawmakers are also eager to test the more conservative makeup of the the U.S. Supreme Court.

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