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AUSTIN, May 6, 2021 (LifeSiteNews) — The Texas House of Representatives on Wednesday approved a so-called heartbeat bill that would ban abortions of babies once their hearts start beating.

House Bill 1515, titled the Texas Heartbeat Act, requires abortionists to screen for a preborn baby’s heartbeat and prohibits abortion if a heartbeat can be heard. Babies hearts’ typically begin to beat around six weeks of pregnancy. HB 1515 protects babies conceived through rape or incest and would cover thousands of preborn children killed in Texas each year.

House lawmakers approved the heartbeat act, which was introduced in the House by Rep. Shelby Slawson (R-Stephenville), 81 votes to 63. The Texas House must approve the bill in a final reading on Thursday before sending it to the governor, who has endorsed it. State senators already passed similar legislation, Senate Bill 8, earlier this session.

“For far too long, abortion has meant the end of a beating heart,” Rep. Slawson said. She added that “that beautiful melody of a beating heart will mean the protection of those innocent unborn lives in Texas.”

Experts who testified before the legislature emphasized the medical significance of preborn babies’ heartbeats. “If the baby’s heartbeat is seen by eight weeks there’s a 98 percent chance that there will be a successful pregnancy,” Dr. James Mauldin, an obstetrics expert, told senators in March. “At six weeks that’s around 78 percent, and by 10 weeks, if a baby’s heartbeat is seen, there’s about a 95.5 percent chance of a successful pregnancy for most patients.”

Numerous states have enacted laws to protect babies with detectable heartbeats since North Dakota passed the first “heartbeat bill” in 2013. Lawsuits by pro-abortion groups have prevented the bills from being enforced, though Texas lawmakers have said their legislation is designed to withstand legal challenges.

Rather than relying on a public enforcement mechanism, HB 1515/SB 8 allows “any person,” except for a sexual abuser, to sue anyone who “aids or abets” an abortion committed after a baby’s heart starts beating. Violators could be fined a minimum of $10,000 per abortion.

The heartbeat act also expands reporting requirements of abortion providers and could be used to make groups that sue to stop the bill’s enforcement pay defendants’ legal fees.

“God bless Texas, its pro-life people and lawmakers, for taking this step forward in the protection of the unborn,” Fr. Frank Pavone, national director of Priests for Life, said in a statement provided to LifeSiteNews. “By the time a baby in the womb has lived only eight weeks, her heart has already beat 7 million times.”

“Together with the important steps Texas (and many other states) have already taken to protect babies in the latest stages of pregnancy, bills like SB 8 send a clear message that the American people are increasingly willing to challenge the prevailing assumptions in law and in the courts that somehow protecting babies in the earlier stages is out of the question.”

Polling has found that the majority of Americans do not think that prohibiting abortion after six weeks is “too restrictive.” The approval of the Texas Heartbeat Act in the House comes days after the governors of Idaho and Oklahoma signed other heartbeat bills into law and after Lubbock, Texas, became the largest U.S. city to vote to ban abortion.