Texas Abortion Ban Explained

January 1, 2021 | By Shane Phelps Law
Texas Abortion Ban Explained

Governor Greg Abbott signed one of the strictest abortion laws in the United States. Keep reading for FAQs related to the law and who it affects.


The abortion law will take effect in September, but Gov. Abbott signed the heartbeat bill in May of 2021. At the signing ceremony, he said that the bill has bipartisan support and will ensure the right to life for all unborn children in Texas.

Gov. Abbott and other members of the legislature have been pushing for comprehensive abortion laws for years, but despite signing SB 8 into law, there is still a long road ahead as they await the verdict from the Supreme Court.

Senate Bill 8 won't be the only abortion bill up for discussion this year. The Supreme Court will hear a case from Mississippi that could potentially overturn Roe v. Wade, but as of now, the abortion clause of the Fourteenth Amendment is still in place.

Q: Does SB 8 Criminalize Abortions?

A: At this point, no. The abortion law bans the procedure, yes, but it does not criminalize abortions outright. Most people hearing about SB 8 assume that pregnant people will be sent to prison for terminating their pregnancy, but in reality, the law targets medical practitioners more than mothers.

Q: When Does the Abortion Ban Start?

A: Senate Bill 8 is set to go into effect on September 1, 2021. There are many lawsuits and motions to stop it, and the Supreme Court will decide whether it is unconstitutional, but for now, the law will go into effect in September.

Q: At What Point During Pregnancy are Abortions Illegal?

A: According to the law, abortions in Texas will be illegal after six weeks. This isn't the first time a bill of this kind has been passed, and in fact, many states have latent laws that ban abortions if Roe v. Wade is overturned.

You may also hear the term "heartbeat bill," which refers to the idea that doctors can detect a heartbeat during routine pregnancy exams at six weeks. It's also important to note that many medical and legal experts point out that the term 'heartbeat' is misleading and could potentially be a legal roadblock in the future.

Q: Will Texas Put Bounties on Pregnant People?

A: Not exactly. The law does, in some ways, 'deputize' citizens and give them the power to report abortions to the state and local law enforcement. This means that anyone can bring a case against anyone who helps facilitate the abortion in a civil suit.

Once a case has been brought to court, a judge will make a decision. If they decide that the claims are valid, the plaintiff (the person who brought the case) could be awarded a minimum of $10,000 and attorney's fees. The defendant would not receive legal relief regardless of the outcome.

Q: Will Only Doctors and Pregnant People Be Punished?

A: No, anyone who aids and abets an abortion can be held responsible under the law. Uber drivers, insurance companies, friends, and family members can all be taken to court for helping a pregnant person obtain an abortion.

Q: Are There Other Laws Like This?

A: Yes and no. Some states have proposed heartbeat bills before, and others have deputized citizens. This isn't the first time Texas has been at the forefront of the abortion issue, and it likely will not be the last. The combination of citizens' enforcement and abortion is new, but the ideas are not.

The idea of giving power to the people to maintain the law isn't new either. Missouri has a law that allows people to sue law enforcement officers for misrepresenting gun laws. Utah gives citizens the power to report and sue websites without warnings about obscene material and pornography.

Key Takeaways

From a legal standpoint, Senate Bill 8 is extremely strategic. It removes responsibility from the state and redirects power to the people by allowing them to report abortions. This detail, in particular, will make motions against the bill difficult as it's unclear who should be held responsible.

The Supreme Court has yet to pass judgment on the bill, which makes the future of SB 8 uncertain at best. If the Court rules that it is unconstitutional, the law will be stopped in its tracks, but if they say nothing or allow it to pass, there may be implications for abortion laws and the Constitution in the future.