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Texas OB-GYN Responds to State Abortion Ban

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Key Takeaways

  • A controversial Texas law that bans abortions at six weeks went into effect on September 1.
  • Many people don't know that they're pregnant until after 5.5 weeks, meaning the law gives them little to no time to make a decision about their body.
  • Jessica Shepherd, MD, Verywell’s chief medical officer and a Texas-based OB-GYN, says she will still offer resources and education for her patients on reproductive health care.

The Texas Heartbeat Act, also known as SB8, bans abortions in the state if a fetal heartbeat is detected. This can be as early as six weeks into a pregnancy and before some people realize they’re pregnant. 

The law, which took effect on Tuesday, overrules the constitutional right to abortion that was laid out in Roe v. Wade protection.

Jessica Shepherd, MD, Verywell’s chief medical officer and a Texas-based OB-GYN, says the law is both unprecedented and controversial.

“This is probably one of the most severe restrictions that has been put on abortions,” Shepherd says.

It takes an average of 5.5 weeks for people to become aware that they’re pregnant, while 23% of people do not detect the pregnancy for seven weeks or more. Anywhere between five and seven weeks can be a normal time to detect a pregnancy, Shepherd adds. 

“There’s a very short window for someone to realize that they’re pregnant and then be able to take the actions necessary about what they would like to do with that pregnancy,” Shepherd says.

The restriction can affect everyone, Shepherd adds, and not limited to those who are considering an abortion.

“It does touch more than just the people who go through the decision-making process,” she says. “People who are close to us in our lives may need this type of health care in the future and we have to be willing to support those people.”

While the new law’s impact is broad, vulnerable groups will carry a disproportionate burden, she adds. A 2018 study found that Black and Hispanic women, younger women, and lower income people are more likely to have a late pregnancy detection.

“Many people don’t have that ability to make that trip or to get to that area where they can get the help they need,” Shepherd says.

The Texas law allows citizens to collect a $10,000 reward if they won a lawsuit against people who perform an abortion after detection of an unborn child's heartbeat or those who offer help. Despite heavy backlash from pro-choice advocates, the ban could set a precedent for other states looking to overturn Roe v. Wade. The Supreme Court will review a Mississippi law that bans abortions after 15 weeks, which may threaten to curb reproductive rights in the country.

Shepherd says she won’t let this law stop her from providing her patients with resources and education about reproductive health care and connecting them to providers in neighboring states. She also intends to use her platform to battle the law in support of her patients.

“This is just the beginning,” she says. “It doesn’t mean this cannot be fought.”

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  1. Branum AM, Ahrens KA. Trends in timing of pregnancy awareness among us womenMatern Child Health J. 2017;21(4):715-726. doi:10.1007/s10995-016-2155-1