Saving the Life or Seizing the Rights: Texas “Heartbeat” Bill

There has been a lot of judicial jurisprudence, reminiscing on the right of bodily integrity and personhood of a person. The giant question that kept looming amidst the talks of abortion is whether a woman has a right to bodily integrity? If the answer is affirmative then up to what extent it is allowed and what is the threshold to that right?Recently, Texas Republican Governor Greg Abbott signed the abortion bill- “The Heartbeat Bill” that bans the right of abortion.

“No woman can call herself free until she can choose consciously whether she will or will not be a mother.” These are the words of Margaret Sanger (the founder of Planned Parenthood).”

Several women regained their right to abortion in Texas, U.S. after the landmark judgment of Roe v. Wade. In relation to this the Supreme Court ruled in the judgment of Roe v. Wade that the right to abortion comes under the ambit of the right to personal privacy of a woman emerged from the ninth and the fourteenth amendment of the constitution.

Scenario before and after the historical judgment of Roe v. Wade
Antecedent, in Texas abortion was illegal. Abortion facilities were only available when the life of the mother was found to be in danger. As a consequence, a number of women reluctantly gave birth from unwanted pregnancies. There was an extreme surge in the cases of illegal abortion in the country. Researchers from Princeton University in the 1960s reckoned that almost one in three Americans (i.e. 32%)who don’t want any children gave birth to a child from an unwanted pregnancy before the ending of their fertility years. According to the ACOG (American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists), before Roe v. Wade approximately 1.2 million U.S. women got illegal abortions every year and in parallel to this around 5,000 of the women were killed due to unsafe abortions.

Texas raised the argument that the foetus is considered a person or individual and therefore has a right to life under the fourteenth amendment. The court disagreed, pointing out that a foetus has never been considered a person within the law and that Texas cannot override the rights of a foetus based on the theory that a foetus is a person. The court struck a balance between Texas’s prohibition on abortion and a woman’s right to privacy, announcing that prior to, viability, the first trimester (Week 1-Week 12) right to privacy, allows her to choose to have the procedure done. After viability, however, second (Week 13-Week 27) and third trimester (Week 28-birth), the state can prohibit abortion based on its interest in protecting and promoting life, as long as the woman’s life isn’t in danger. According to the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention’s report of 2013, 91.6% of abortions were carried out during the first trimester after the historical judgment of Roe v Wade.Several women exercised their right to abortion.

Concept of ‘Right to Bodily Integrity’
An eminent American philosopher, Martha Nussbaum in her list of Central human functional capabilities elucidated bodily integrity as: “Being able to move freely from place to place; being able to be secure against violent assault, including sexual assault, marital rape and domestic violence having opportunities for sexual satisfaction and for choice in matters of reproduction.” The right of bodily integrity isn’t simply restricted to the actual edges of a human body; it additionally incorporates the right to one’s respect, self-sufficiency, and personhood. These theoretical innate rights are indivisible and are ensured as essential rights to each human being. Thus, a woman also possesses the right to make decisions for her own body. The right to bodily integrity is a birth right and a woman has this right to make decisions related to the life which she carries in her womb.

New provisions in the bill
This Texas “heartbeat” bill includes and bans abortion if a doctor finds a fetal heartbeat in the foetus, usually about six weeks of pregnancy. This provision of the bill is not supported by the citizens since; many women aren’t able to figure out that they are pregnant within these six weeks. Herethe right of bodily integrity and the new criteria of abortion mentioned in the new Abortion bill of Texas can easily connected. What if the woman finds out that she is not mentally prepared for childbirth after the fetal heartbeat is developed? As indicated by the new bill she can’t cut short the child that she is carrying in her womb, she needs to conceive an offspring and that is the solitary single way for her.

Many other states of the U.S. have the same system but there’s something different with this Texas bill. Earlier, the government officials had the responsibility of enforcing the law, and if clinics want to challenge the constitutionality of laws they had the right to do so. But now, in the new bill, the officials are fully prohibited to enforce it. Instead, the rights are given in the hands of the ordinary citizens that if they find and report an illegal abortion they will be awarded $10,000 per illegal abortion. An outsider can also report the case of illegal abortion. It is obviously apparent that this new bill is curbing the rights from every direction and this provision can also be misused by a rapist, human trafficker, or abductor if they impregnate any woman they could sue the provider ahead of the methodology to prevent it from occurring, denying the casualty the capacity to have the foetus removal. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott remained behind the arrangement, referring and citing to his religious beliefs. “Our creator endowed us with the right to life, and yet millions of children lose their right to life every year because of abortion,” Governor Greg Abbott said while signing the bill. The legislature “worked together on a bipartisan basis to pass a bill that I’m about to sign that ensures that the life of every unborn child who has a heartbeat will be saved from the ravages of abortion.”

Addition to all these criteria, in the event if she disapproves of bearing the child or conceiving an offspring then she ought to be given the option to settle on choices all alone. John Stuart Mill, a former member of the parliament of the United Kingdom wrote, “over himself, over his own body and mind, the individual is sovereign” and “each is the proper guardian of his own health, whether bodily or mental and spiritual.”

Concluding Remarks

Forcing rights by naming them as ‘law’ over somebody’s body ought not to be drilled in the public eye. This bill is setting an off-base picture of concealment of human rights and the domination over the body of a woman. Excessive encroachment over the rights of bodily integrity of its subjects is equal to stepping out of the periphery of the concept of the welfare state. Also, ethics can be the premise of a law however law should never turn into the premise of unfair traditions. In a socialized society, it is crucial to demarcate law and moral values and then rectify the incorrect ethics prevailing in the society with the help of modern laws.

Author: Vishakha Singh is 2nd Year B.A. LL.B.(Hons.) student of Jamia Millia Islamia, Delhi

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