AUSTIN (KXAN) — For Heather Gardner, executive director of the Central Texas Coalition for Life, Sept. 1 marks a step forward for pro-life advocacy work within Texas.

Currently, people in Texas have 20 weeks into a pregnancy to decide whether or not to undergo an abortion. Come Sept. 1, new legislation will ban abortions after an ultrasound is able to detect the fetus’ heartbeat, which can occur as early as six weeks into a pregnancy.

On May 19, Gov. Greg Abbott signed Senate Bill 8 into law, with the legislation set to take effect next week. The law will restrict abortion procedures after a fetal heartbeat is detected, which can happen as early as six weeks into a pregnancy.

“The fact that it’s called the heartbeat law, it’s called that for a reason, because there’s a heartbeat that’s detected of a newly-conceived human being — that’s what people fail to tend to talk about, because it’s too taboo, and all they want to talk about is all the other things, the clichés, all the slogans,” she said. “But we’re talking about two people involved in every single abortion.”

Gov. Greg Abbott signed Senate Bill 8, known as the "heartbeat bill," into law Wednesday. (Screenshot from Governor's Office Facebook Live broadcast)
Gov. Greg Abbott signed Senate Bill 8, known as the “heartbeat bill,” into law May 19. (Screenshot from Governor’s Office Facebook Live broadcast)

As part of the coalition’s efforts, Gardner said the organization partners with area pregnancy centers to provide medical and educational resources, food assistance and financial help for expecting mothers. She said the coalition aims to address the financial barriers surrounding pregnancies that might lead some women to consider an abortion.

“You know, if they’re having a problem financially, then that’s going to affect a lot of the other areas of getting basic necessities, such as food and help paying their light bills and things like that,” she said. “So, that means that’s just a no brainer for us to be able to let them know that there’s places that can help them find those resources, because it’s very overwhelming.”

But for other organizations, they said this upcoming legislation creates more barriers than it eliminates. Cristina Parker, communications director for the Lilith Fund for Reproductive Equity, said SB 8 dramatically decreases a woman’s window for choice, stripping personal autonomy from the decision-making process.

“Six weeks into pregnancy is extremely early. It’s the equivalent to being two weeks late on your period,” she said, adding, “It’s so early in pregnancy that the majority of people are not aware at that point. So before we even know that we have a choice to make, our choices are taken away from us.”

According to data from the Texas Department of State Health Services, nearly all abortions conducted in 2021 were performed during the first trimester or the first 12 weeks. State data highlighted the vast majority were performed within eight weeks of a pregnancy.

Historic data collected by DSHS noted the top five counties for abortion services have remained consistent for the past decade. Data compiled between 2011 and 2019 reported Harris County accounts for the largest share of abortions performed, with Travis County listed as No. 5.

The Lilith Fund is one of several pro-choice nonprofits or abortion clinics to file a lawsuit against the state over SB 8, which is set to be heard in an Austin court on Aug. 30. The organization provides financial assistance and emotional support to women seeking abortions, with Parker referring to the fund’s hotline as the “heart and soul” of its work.

So much of its work historically has centered around connecting women to in-state resources. Now, Parker said part of its shift will include building on the organization’s out-of-state networks to find and secure abortions for women.

“It’s going to drastically change. It’s going to mean instead of helping someone pay for their abortion at their local clinic or their nearest clinic, we’re going to be talking about how to get people out of state, and connecting to funds and clinics and other resources out of state,” she said. “And that some of the work that we’ve been doing in these past couple months is to create those connections and those bridges, so that we can make sure that Texans can get care even if they have to leave Texas.”

In a statement, representatives from Planned Parenthood of Greater Texas — an additional plaintiff on the suit — condemned the legislation and outlined expanded services in light of the new law.

“Should SB 8 go into effect, we know patients will need more healthcare more quickly. Planned Parenthood is expanding access to birth control appointments; providing emergency contraception proactively to patients; and preparing to provide additional support for patients who have fewer options available and who might be forced to leave the state. With the restrictions and barriers already in place in Texas, we know some of those who seek abortion after September 1 may find this new ban insurmountable, particularly low-income and undocumented people, and people of color.”

Sarah Wheat, Planned Parenthood of Greater Texas spokesperson

Gardner acknowledged the controversial nature surrounding SB 8; however, she added the main focus of her coalition’s work is raising awareness on the nuances of abortion and what other options are available to expecting mothers.

“It’s always going to be controversial anytime there is a law that restricts abortion in any capacity, and I think what’s important is to make sure that with whatever these laws are, that there’s an educational component that comes along with this,” she said. “Because what’s rarely talked about anytime there is a law about abortion is actually what abortion is.”