Abortion providers scramble to respond to patients before new Texas law takes effect

The fight for the future of abortion care in the nation’s second-largest state veered to a chaotic climax on Tuesday, with an eleventh-hour plea over Texas’ sweeping new ban hanging in the US Supreme Court. United and abortion providers scrambling to cater to patients, many of whom may find themselves without the means to safely access the procedure in the morning.

It was a scene almost certain to delight the law’s most ardent supporters, who have spent years searching for a way around the legal hurdles that have blocked other Texas laws restricting access to abortion. With Senate Bill 8 due to take effect on Wednesday, they may have found their answer.

The law, signed this spring by Republican Gov. Greg Abbott, allows private citizens to sue doctors and others who help women have abortions after six weeks of pregnancy or after a fetal heartbeat is first detected. Proponents hope the unusual enforcement approach will help the ban succeed where others have failed, making it difficult to legally challenge the law.

As liberal media outlet Slate said on Monday, “SB 8 was designed as an Escher staircase for litigants.”

And so far it has worked. Over the weekend, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals quashed a trial judge’s hearing on the constitutionality of Senate Bill 8, running out of time for legal maneuvers to block the deployment . Planned Parenthood and other providers have asked the High Court to intervene, leaving the fate of the law to a panel of mostly conservative judges who have already shown openness to overturning federal protections against abortion.

“This is the most restrictive abortion law that would go into effect that I have ever seen,” said Amy Hagstrom Miller, who runs Whole Woman’s Health and has a long history of challenging past abortion laws. in Texas.

The result could dramatically change access to abortion in Texas and much of the South and Midwest, where it is already limited. If the ban passes, it would almost certainly spur other conservative-run states to adopt their own versions and likely limit services even for women who are early in their pregnancy.

Some abortion providers in Texas say they will be forced to go beyond guidelines and close nearly all of their services to avoid costly and potentially endless citizen litigation. Under the new law, they are not allowed to recover their legal fees even if they successfully fend off a lawsuit.

Groups that study and support abortion access say the ban will most directly affect low-income women and women of color, many of whom don’t have private insurance or the money or time to travel to a state where the procedure is still legal. There are 7 million women of childbearing age in the state. Last year, around 54,000 abortions were performed.

According to abortion advocates, between 85 and 90 percent of people who get abortions in Texas are at least six weeks pregnant. The ban would make no exceptions for victims of rape and incest.

Abortion rights supporters also filed a lawsuit to have the law struck down in state courts and won a narrow victory on Tuesday when a district judge issued a temporary restraining order against activists. anti-abortion. But the order, issued by Judge Amy Clark Meachum, only applies to a limited group of Dallas attorneys who said their free speech and other rights were violated by the ban.

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A hearing on more permanent relief in the case is scheduled for September 13.

Texas lawmakers aren’t stopping at SB 8. On Monday, House Republicans gave preliminary approval to another measure that would ban the use of medical abortions after seven weeks of pregnancy and punish doctors who help get the pills up to two years later. prison.

Miller said his four clinics in Texas would be open Wednesday, regardless of the ban. She said some employees and doctors had recently left the company due to legal uncertainty surrounding the law. Even if the ban is delayed, a provision in it allows for retroactive prosecution if it is ultimately upheld.

“The only way to protect everyone on my team is to not offer abortions,” Miller said. “Because even when we comply, people will accuse us of not complying.”

She added: “It’s way too much for our culture and our country to ask clinic workers to shoulder that kind of burden.”

Edward McKinley contributed reporting.

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