Texas Heartbeat Bill: Irrelevant and Unreasonable

This article needs very little preamble: it centers on the Texas Heartbeat Bill, which is near-ubiquitous in the political sphere after a week of nonstop coverage. It has been hailed as humanitarian and decried as draconian; it is infamous to the point that when the Student  mentioned wanting to run an article about simply, “Texas,” all of us immediately knew what particular issue we were supposed to write about.

The Texas Heartbeat Bill, which was passed in May of this year and took effect on September 1, bans abortions in almost all cases after six weeks of pregnancy, by which point many women do not yet know they are pregnant. The law includes an exception for medical emergencies but not for incest, assault, or rape, and it allows regular citizens to sue their neighbors if they suspect an abortion was performed. The law was passed by the state’s congress but will likely face federal challenges; in the meantime, the backlash from abortion rights groups and the support from anti-abortion groups has been fierce.

Abortion itself is a contentious topic, and the question of morality will not be resolved neatly in a 500-word op-ed. The more wieldy issue that can be broken down here is the tangible causes and effects of the Texas abortion law, as well as the reasons why the group promoting it, Texas Right to Life, is engaging in an advocacy campaign that is unhelpful, counterproductive, and deeply hypocritical. 

It is not necessarily wrong to want to protect the rights of six-week-old fetuses, but it is utterly disingenuous to do that work by promoting images of infants.

More generally, the anti-abortion movement is engaging in deceptive tactics to promote unhelpful solutions, and, taken together, these efforts confound and confuse the debate. In both a rhetorical sense and a practical sense, the Texas Heartbeat Bill and the anti-abortion movement are making arguments and proposals that are utterly irrelevant and in doing so, are misconstruing the entire context regarding the debate.

The issue is twofold. First, the right-to-life movement promotes its anti-abortion policies by drawing a fallacious equivalency between born children and unborn fetuses. Secondly, regardless of its rhetoric, it is demonstrable that the anti-abortion movement doesn’t actually prevent abortions and in fact increases the dangers of pregnancy.

The first part of the problem is in its rhetoric: the ways the anti-abortion movement promotes its belief are based on a false equivalency. The most central image for the anti-abortion movement is the child: the helpless, voiceless infant. Texas Right to Life has its website homepage almost entirely consumed by the image of a sleeping infant cupped in a parent’s hands. 

The philosophical issue of when life begins can be debated, but the unequivocal truth is that a six-week-old fetus is not the same thing as a human infant. It is not necessarily wrong to want to protect the rights of six-week-old fetuses, but it is utterly disingenuous to do that work by promoting images of infants. 

The work that is done to actually protect infants has little to do with the work that Texas Right to Life does, and it is unfair to use images of the former to promote the latter. “Protecting infants” is a difficult category to define, but undoubtedly includes initiatives like high-quality daycare, universal Pre-K, and a reduction in child poverty (which can be accomplished through means such as expanding childcare subsidies, funding SNAP, and raising the minimum wage). Texas Right to Life is advocating for exactly none of this, so it is unfair of the group to use images of children to promote its work. Using images of fetuses to protest against abortion would be one thing; it would be a position with which I personally disagree, but it would at least be logical, rhetorically legitimate, and fair. 

It is, perhaps, easy to say that an image of an infant is “just a picture,” but images are powerful and messages carry strength. The subtle connotation of the visuals leads to a strong – perhaps subliminal, certainly inaccurate – but strong allusion between fetus advocacy and child advocacy. It makes the debate fallacious and inaccurate, and it creates real danger. Rhetorically-speaking, this is a profound danger of the anti-abortion movement.

Then, there is the more practical issue behind the Texas Heartbeat Bill: it does not work. Greg Abbott, the governor of Texas, claimed that the bill would ensure that “the life of every unborn child who has a heartbeat will be saved from the ravages of abortion,” and yet, it is a demonstrable fact that banning abortion does not decrease the number of abortions performed; instead, it simply makes the procedures more dangerous. 

There are ways of decreasing the number of abortions effectively: such solutions include increasing the availability of contraception, comprehensive sex education, and insurance coverage of family planning services. It stands to reason that a movement aiming to “save” children from the “ravages of abortion” would want to reduce the number of abortions, but the anti-abortion movement is advocating for the one “solution” that has been proven not to work (outright bans) and rejecting the multifaceted solutions that do.

The common thread between these issues is that there is a dichotomy between what activists claim is being done, and what is actually being done. In both the rhetorical sense and the practical sense, advocates are arguing for something that simply isn’t relevant to the issue at hand. “The rights of the fetus” is an argument that can be made with care – not one with which I agree, but one I respect – but the problem is that in neither case is this actually the argument being made.

The Texas Heartbeat Bill is counterproductive and based on arguments. It also sets a worrying constitutional precedent, is based on intensely religious rhetoric, and, troublingly, does not include an exception for rape, but these are points that deserve their own articles. The most worrying part of the bill is that it, along with the movement, dangerously distorts the narrative. It warps facts by claiming false equivalencies, and then uses those flawed facts to justify dangerous and potentially unconstitutional legislation.

Regardless of your personal stance on the morality of abortion, the Texas Heartbeat Bill does not deserve your support. There are more productive ways to meet your goals, whether those are reducing abortions (in which case, you should work to reduce unwanted pregnancies) or reducing childhood poverty. Banning abortion outright because of advertising is not a reasonable or relevant act.