Abortion ‘heartbeat bill’ wins critical vote in Texas House

The debate over Senate Bill 8 quickly turned personal as the exchange between state Rep Donna Howard (D-Austin) and the bill's sponsor state Rep. Shelby Slawson (R-Stephenville) set the tone.

"This is the worst day of the session, every single session, and the stuff keeps coming up," said Howard.

The response from Slawson was a reflection of the division in the House. "This is the best day for tens of thousands of unborn children in the state," she said.

SB 8, a new attempt to restrict abortions in Texas, makes a heartbeat of an unborn child the new standard.


"Many men and women in this chamber have had that incredible experience when we first heard the sound of our then unborn babies play out in a doctors' office. That kwoosh, kwoosh, kwoosh," said Slawson.

Rep. Howard challenged the idea of using the sound to determine when an abortion should not be done.

"The Doppler fetal monitor, that has that kwoosh, woosh, woosh sound that you gave us a while ago, is not actually the sound of a heartbeat, but an amplified version of signals. Did you know that?" asked Howard.


The point was pressed by Howard who brought up a statement from doctors who wrote that the heartbeat sound should not be used. Slawson refused to agree that the sound of the heartbeat is not critical.

"I fundamentally disagree with that," said Slawson.

For Howard, who has a medical background, Slawson’s response only made the exchange more personal.

"Well, you know I appreciate that you don't want to believe this and that you are disagreeing with it but I am talking about what the science says, so you're telling me that the science is wrong," said Howard.

A key and controversial part of SB 8 is a section allowing lawsuits against anyone who performs an abortion or helps make it possible. That has raised concerns for victims, which prompted Slawson to submit an Amendment. State Rep. Sheryl Cole (D-Austin) asked Slawson if the Amendment makes an exception for rape or incest.

"It provides that a civil cause of action may not be brought by a person who impregnated the abortion patient through an act of rape, sexual assault, incest of any other specifically acts in the penal code," answered Slawson.

Before the debate began, those opposed to SB 8 and those who support it weighed in on what the legislation could do.

"The people who are going to be devastatingly impacted are the women who cannot afford to drive out of state to get healthcare," said former state Sen. Wendy Davis.

Jonathan Saenz with Texas Values believes there are options other than abortion.

"There are hundreds of facilities in the state of Texas that are ready to support women, that are ready to support unborn children, regardless of their circumstances, and once they are born," said Saenz.

The debate wrapped up with a final vote of 81 to 63 in favor of SB8. The governor posted on social media that he intends to sign the legislation when it reaches his desk. But there are still a few more steps to be done before that happens.

A third and final reading of the bill is expected Thursday. The process is typically a formality, but sometimes controversial legislation can face an additional challenge. If and when SB8 moves out of the House it will have to be sent back to the Senate because the version passed there was amended by the House.

If the changes are accepted the bill will be sent to the Governor. If not, a Conference Committee will be set to work out a compromise.