Texas governor proves he doesn't understand how pregnancy works as he defends abortion ban

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Texas GOP Gov. Greg Abbott claimed pregnant people have six weeks to get an abortion under the ban — which is categorically false.

Texas' Republican Gov. Greg Abbott on Tuesday tried to defend his state's draconian abortion ban that prohibits abortion before many people even know they're pregnant, falsely claiming that the law gives people six weeks to get the procedure — which he suggested was an adequate amount of time.

"Obviously it provides at least six weeks for a person to be able to get an abortion," Abbott said of the law — which bans abortion after so-called "fetal cardiac activity" can be detected — at a news conference.

His comment came in response to a question about why he'd support a law that would force a rape or incest victim to carry an unwanted pregnancy to term, as the abortion ban kicks in before many people even know they are pregnant. Texas' anti-abortion law does not provide an exemption for victims of rape or incest, and bans the procedure after what they call "fetal cardiac activity" can be detected — typically around six weeks gestation.

Doctors have said that the terminology is misleading. "At six weeks of gestation ... the flickering that we're seeing on the ultrasound that early in the development of the pregnancy is actually electrical activity, and the sound that you 'hear' is actually manufactured by the ultrasound machine," Dr. Nisha Verma told NPR.

And Abbott's comment that pregnant people have six weeks to make a decision and get an abortion is categorically false.

Pregnancy is calculated from the date of a person's last missed period — it's not a count of how many weeks a person is actually pregnant.

On the day a person misses their period, they are already considered four weeks pregnant by doctors. If a person took a pregnancy test on the day of their missed period, they'd have just two weeks to make a decision about whether to continue with the pregnancy, secure an appointment, and get the procedure.

"For the first two weeks of this 6-week time frame you, haven't even ovulated or conceived. For the 3rd week you're not yet pregnant. After implantation it's another week before you miss a cycle. So, in the most optimal situation at about [four weeks two days]-ish into the 6 wks you take a test," Dr. Danielle Jones, a board-certified obstetrician-gynecologist from Texas, tweeted.

It's why the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists have opposed previous attempts at banning abortion based on notions of fetal cardiac activity. In 2017, the group wrote that it amounts to an "outright ban on abortion for most women, and will prohibit health care providers from providing ethical, necessary care to their patients."

Because pregnancy is calculated from the last missed period, for two weeks of the six weeks people in Texas have to get an abortion, they are not even technically pregnant yet. That's because, in an ideal situation, if a person has a 28-day menstrual cycle — which is the average length — conception could first occur at around day 14, when ovulation occurs and there's potential for sperm to meet egg to create an embryo. It takes another week for that embryo to implant in the uterus and more time for that embryo to make enough pregnancy hormone for a pregnancy test to detect.

And doctors say many people don't have regular cycles, nor do they know exactly when they ovulate — meaning they could be further along than six weeks into pregnancy before they experience symptoms and decide to take a test. And people who aren't trying to conceive wouldn't be closely tracking their periods — cutting down their two-week window to get an abortion even further.

"In the most ideal of situations, you have 4 days to make a rushed decision AND find a Texas abortion provider, often a difficult process in itself," Jones added. "Realistically, none of these steps ever happen that fast."

"Gov. @GregAbbott_TX clearly does not understand pregnancy or periods or facts. 6 wks gestation is 2 weeks after a missed period ASSUMING you have 'normal' 28 day cycles, which many people do not," Dr. Jenn Conti, a board-certified obstetrician-gynecologist and medical journalist, tweeted.

It's why Planned Parenthood, the Center for Reproductive Rights, the American Civil Liberties Union, and abortion providers sued to try to block Texas' law, writing in their brief that the law will "immediately and catastrophically reduce abortion access in Texas," noting that at least 85% of abortions take place after six weeks.

The Supreme Court, however, denied their emergency application to block the law from being enforced — even as it violates the landmark Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision, which made abortion legal in the United States up until fetal viability, which is around 24 weeks gestation.

The Supreme Court let the law go into effect based on a loophole, citing that the government of Texas is banned from policing the ban while it allows average citizens deputized by the state to sue anyone they think is providing abortions after 6 weeks, or those they believe are aiding and abetting the procedures. That means someone who drives a person to an abortion procedure can be sued for up to $10,000, according to the law.

Because the Supreme Court let the law take effect, people have been unable to get abortions because clinics are complying with the ban, the New York Times reported.

Meanwhile, other GOP-controlled states — which have tried passing abortion bans in the past — are now looking to use this same framework to ban abortion in their states.

It's still unclear whether Texas' law will eventually be struck down. A legal challenge to the ban is still making its way through lower federal courts, and the Supreme Court as of yet has not struck down Roe v. Wade.

However, the Supreme Court is set to hear arguments on a Mississippi abortion ban after 15 weeks gestation that could overturn Roe v. Wade and allow states to ban abortion procedures.

Polling finds broad support for abortion in the United States.

A May survey from the Pew Research Center found 59% of Americans say abortion should be legal in "all or most cases."

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.