Peyton King

Texas’s newest law restricting abortion went into effect Wednesday, Sept. 1. Known as the Texas Heartbeat Act proposed via Senate Bill 8 (SB 8), Texas has effectively prohibited most abortions as early as six weeks into pregnancy.  

The law states, “a physician may not knowingly perform or induce an abortion on a pregnant woman if the physician detected a fetal heartbeat for the unborn child as required by Section 171.203 or failed to perform a test to detect a fetal heartbeat.” The law also states that “fetal heartbeat” is defined as, “cardiac activity or the steady and repetitive rhythmic contraction of the fetal heart within the gestational sac.” 

On top of these restrictions, private individuals can report and sue abortion providers or people who assist abortion after an ultrasound can detect what lawmakers defined as a fetal heartbeat. The law states, “Any person, other than an officer or employee of a state or local governmental entity in this state, may bring civil action against any person who: (1) performs or induces an abortion in violation of this chapter; (2) knowingly engages in conduct that aids or abets the performance or inducement of an abortion … (b) If a claimant prevails in an action brought under this section, the court shall award: (1) injunctive relief sufficient to prevent the defendant from violating this chapter or engaging in acts that aid or abet violations of this chapter; S.B. No. 8 (2) statutory damages in an amount of not less than $10,000 for each abortion that the defendant performed or induced in violation of this chapter and for each abortion performed or induced in violation of this chapter that the defendant aided or abetted.” 

In layman’s terms, anyone living in Texas can sue anyone they suspect is aiding an abortion after a roughly six-week mark (approximately the time that a heartbeat can be detected in a fetus). 

According to an article written by Amber Phillips for The Washington Post, “The woman seeking an abortion in Texas herself can’t be sued, but the provider could, the person who drove her there, the counselor who referred her and on and on,” could all be sued in exchange for a $10,000 minimum award (to be paid by the defendant) for any successful lawsuit to stop an abortion. 

The law also makes no exceptions for cases involving rape, sexual abuse or incest, but there is an exception for certain medical emergencies. 

Medical experts, legal experts, abortion providers and pro-choice advocates have found this highly restrictive law to be a cause for controversy on many fronts.  

Though the law stated clearly its definition of a fetal heartbeat, medical experts have pointed out that the law’s idea of a fetal heartbeat is not caused by a heart at all. 

According to an article written by Andrew Zhang for the Texas Tribune, “Embryos at [the six-week] developmental stage don’t possess a heart. Medical and legal experts say the sound Republican lawmakers are referring to is the motion of electrical pulses stimulating muscle cells in a tube that will eventually become part of the heart.” 

Additionally, controversy has arisen on behalf of pro-choice advocates and abortion providers in context of the historical Roe v. Wade court case of 1973, in which it was determined that the Constitution of the United States protects a pregnant woman’s liberty to choose to have an abortion without excessive government restriction. 

In the same article by Zhang for the Texas Tribune, it is written, “Abortion providers are suing to block the law. Additionally, HB 1280 would outlaw abortion in Texas 30 days after any potential U.S. Supreme Court decision overturns Roe v. Wade.” 

On top of this, many individuals and news outlets argue that the six-week mark often comes before a woman knows that she’s pregnant. According to healthline.com, symptoms of pregnancy at this stage are similar to those of premenstrual syndrome: fatigue, sore breasts, headaches, nausea and more. This makes the possibility of the individual knowing that they’re pregnant all the more complicated.  

But what does all of this controversy, politicism and ethical warfare mean to those on Bison Hill?  

Professor of Science at OBU Dr. Tony Yates shared his views on the Texas Heartbeat Act and how it affects those outside of Texas and, more specifically, at OBU. 

“Personally, I believe Texas’ abortion law is a start for eliminating abortions in Texas and saving the lives of the defenseless unborn, assuming the law is enforced,” Yates said. “I believe empowering citizens to sue abortion providers and those that assist someone in acquiring an abortion will make abortions less common, assuming citizens take advantage of this unique component of the law. Although a start, I believe that Texas should prohibit all abortions, including those that are now allowed prior to the detection of the fetal heartbeat when human embryonic life if flourishing.” 

Yates commented on the question of constitutionalism surrounding Texas’s abortion law.  

“Certainly, abortion is a very politicized issue and I am quite certain there will be numerous attempts to declare the Texas Abortion Law unconstitutional by those entities that have a stake in it being declared so. Critics of Senate Bill 8, including the Biden administration, which is suing the state of Texas to halt the abortion measure, have assailed it as a clear violation of the Constitution. Roe vs. Wade, which allows abortions until about 24 weeks of pregnancy, seemingly remains the law of the land,” Yates said. “In its 5-4 majority decision in the Texas case, the Supreme Court said that it was not ruling on the constitutionality of the state law, but that an emergency attempt to stop it by abortion providers had not succeeded in its challenge. Members in the court’s minority in the ruling called the Texas measure unconstitutional. Therefore, the stage is set for what I imagine will be a quite contentious battle in determining the constitutionality of the law. Time will tell.” 

Yates explained his views on abortion from a deeply Christian, but also scientific perspective.  

“Personally, I do not believe abortions of human embryos or fetuses should be performed,” Yates said. “Although there may be instances during a pregnancy where the mother’s life may hang in the balance and difficult decisions may have to be employed to ensure her survival.” 

Yates described the life experience that brought him to this perspective.  

“As a biologist and an educator I have spent a lifetime studying and teaching this thing called life and the more I immerse myself into its mysterious depths the more I realize that life should be reverenced … all life. To extinguish the life of a human in the womb for reasons that may seem warranted at the time, is not adhering to the sanctity of life,” Yates said. “Life is sacred and a gift from God and is to be respected and protected. In addition, having, performing or assisting with an abortion may damage the long-term physical and emotional health of those involved.” 

As a Christian biologist, Yates said he identifies with the title “pro-life” not only for humans, but for all life on Earth. As Charles Darwin grew in his knowledge and study of nature and life, he went from enjoying hunting to respecting life and preferring to observe rather than obtain – which often meant death for the organism. Yates, too, has learned to prefer an appreciation of God’s creation from an observer’s point of view rather than an invasive, experimental version. 

It is with this perspective and a Biblical background that he approaches the topic and practice of abortion.  

Yates commented on the scriptures that formed and support his beliefs surrounding abortion. 

“The Bible consistently proclaims the utmost importance of protecting life in the womb,” Yates said. “This portrayal is found in the Old and New Testament, particularly in the Psalms and in the life of Jesus while resting in Mary’s womb (Psalm 139:13-14, Psalm 51:5, Luke 1:31). In addition, the Scriptures inform us that ‘You shall not murder’ (Exodus 20:13, Deuteronomy 5:17); ‘And from each man, too, I will demand an accounting for the life of his fellow man. Whoever sheds the blood of man by man shall his blood be shed; for in the image of God has God made man’ (Genesis 9:5-6).” 

Yates explained how he believes the emphasis on science during the abortion debate doesn’t accurately portray the scientific fact of where life begins.  

“In order to rationalize their acceptance of abortion, many entities and individuals produce false narratives as to when life actually begins,” Yates said. “In this age of COVID-19 we often hear the phrase, ‘Follow the science!’. Science informs us that life begins when the egg is fertilized by the sperm and produces the fertilized egg called a zygote. The time of fertilization represents the starting point in the life history, or ontogeny, of the individual and this occurs on day one, not when the fetal heart begins to beat some six weeks later. The sanctity of life begins with the zygote.” 

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