Reminiscing The Handmaids Tale by Explaining the Texas Abortion Law



Sadie Connolly (she/her), Journalist

If you read “The Handmaid’s Tale” by Margaret Atwood, you will recognize some similarities between the dystopian novel and our changing current-day society. “The Handmaid’s Tale” follows the story of “handmaids” – women who have been assigned the role of bearing children for families of society’s elites. Today, women are gradually losing control over their bodies, and society is regressing from protecting equal rights of all human bodies under Roe v. Wade, controlling a woman’s personal decisions without regard to the detrimental effects that childbearing can have on her. 


Texas law now prohibits women from getting legal and safe abortions after a fetal heartbeat has been detected. Other states, including Arkansas, Idaho, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, North Dakota, South Dakota, Tennessee, and Utah, also have laws constraining abortions subsequent to the detection of fetal heartbeats. The Texas law (Senate Bill 8) allows civilian residents of Texas to enforce this law, removing the need for state enforcement and delegation of officials. Civilians are encouraged to report and sue any and all people involved in an abortion, including a driver found taking a woman to an abortion clinic or physician. There is also an incentive to pursue a lawsuit: the plaintiff’s legal fees are entirely waived by the state, and they are rewarded a bounty of $10,000 if they win the case. The cases are made inarguable by the judges in court because of a criterion outlined in the SB8. The parent themself cannot be sued, but they also cannot go to another state to get an abortion, because anyone involved in the abortion of a Texas resident may be sued for assistance. 


The law bans abortions after the detection of a fetal heartbeat, which happens four to five weeks after conception. This portion of the law has a caveat regarding the type of detection used: it must be transvaginal, meaning an invasive ultrasound that must enter the woman’s body is required. Even if a fetal heartbeat is found by four weeks, a physician is legally not allowed to perform an abortion on the woman. 


A study published in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology demonstrated that a transvaginal Doppler ultrasound was more effective in detecting a fetal heartbeat than a typical transabdominal ultrasound (Mitra et. al, 1996). Since Texas bans non-invasive methods of ultrasounds from being used to detect fetal heartbeats in potential abortion cases, including transabdominal ultrasounds, women have even more restrictions as to what medical care they are entitled to receiving. The law was presented as a ban on abortions after six weeks, but when truly broken down, it has everything to do with fetal heartbeat monitoring and the way in which this is detected. 


Another important specification in the timeline of the ban on abortions in relation to fetal heartbeats is the definition of a “fetal heartbeat.” The law specifies that a heartbeat is any cardiac activity within the gestational sac, typically detected at four to five weeks after gestation, which in perspective, is about two weeks after a woman may typically get her period. This leaves pressure on the woman to monitor her menstrual cycle meticulously so that she may keep what few rights of her reproductive system she has left, and it leaves little responsibility on the lawmakers and citizens enforcing this law who continue to take advantage of every caveat and inch of the law they can pin against women simply to control the pregnancy, she will endure. 


Women are not host bodies used to raise the next generation. They are human beings who deserve the same rights to their bodies as any other human, and women should certainly not be “handmaids” forced to carry a child against their will. Here it is important to recognize that women are not the only ones who can receive abortions, they are simply the majority and are therefore referred to as such in this article. 


There is a regrettable forgetting of history that seems to be happening with the passing of these new laws for the sake of political viewpoints. There is a threat to overturn “Roe vs. Wade” was passed in 1973 and was disputed over the fact that a woman may require abortion for reasons including “possibilities of contraceptive failure, pregnancy, unpreparedness for parenthood, and impairment of the wife’s health” (Jane Roe vs. Henry Wade,1973). These reasons still stand today, almost fifty years into the future. Since 1973, there have been countless movements to decrease the discrepancies between women and men and to include all genders in between and/or outside. There is a reason to the law that was passed, and there are countless reasons a woman may require or want an abortion that is not respected by any of the abortion constricting laws including rape and incest. Additionally, the law does not allow abortion of a fetus with a fatal or untreatable condition, forcing a woman to carry a terminal fetus to term. 


There are no solutions to fix these problems. There is no way to eliminate rape or incest, there is no way to make someone prepared to be a parent in under nine months. There are no ways to prevent these reasons for abortions. There is no way to fix a fatal or untreatable problem in a fetus. 


On August 30th, 2021 the Supreme Court was asked to block the Texas law, and the Supreme Court did not vote to ban. This left Texas abortion clinics with multiple hour-long lines of women who were not given the time to make a well rationalized and thought out decision before the law went into effect. The law went into effect Wednesday, September 1st, and leaves Texas women with inevitable subjugation of their bodies and lives.


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