AUSTIN, TX – A Texas law banning most abortions in the state went into effect at midnight, but the Supreme Court has yet to respond to an emergency appeal to suspend the law.
If allowed to remain in effect, the law would be the most significant restriction on abortion rights in the United States since the landmark High Court decision in Roe v. Wade legalized abortion nationwide in 1973.
The Texas law, signed by Republican Gov. Greg Abbott in May, bans abortions once a heartbeat can be detected in a fetus, usually around six weeks and before most women know they are pregnant.
“Right now, most abortions are banned in Texas,” Center for Reproductive Rights attorney Marc Hearron said in a call with reporters Wednesday. Hearron said his group and the abortion providers he represents still hope to hear from the Supreme Court.
Abortion providers asking the Supreme Court to intervene said the law would exclude 85% of abortions in Texas and force many clinics to close. Planned Parenthood is among the abortion providers that stopped scheduling abortions beyond six weeks after conception.
Abortion rights advocates say Texas law will force many women to travel out of state for abortions if they can afford to and also address issues such as child custody and time off. . It is also expected to increase the number of women seeking abortions themselves using pills obtained through the mail.
At least 12 other states have enacted abortion bans in early pregnancy, but all have been blocked from going into effect.
FILE: Protesters hold signs as they march down Congress Avenue during a demonstration outside the Texas State Capitol on May 29, 2021 in Austin, Texas. (Photo by Sergio Flores/Getty Images)
What makes Texas law different is its unusual enforcement regime. Rather than having officials responsible for enforcing the law, private citizens are allowed to sue abortion providers and anyone involved in facilitating abortions. Among other situations, this would include anyone who drives a woman to a clinic for an abortion. Under the law, anyone who successfully sues another person would be entitled to at least $10,000.
President Joe Biden said in a statement that the law “flagrantly violates the constitutional law established by Roe v. Wade.”
“The Texas law will significantly impede women’s access to the health care they need, especially for communities of color and low-income people. And, shockingly, it mandates private citizens to sue anyone who they believe has helped another person to have an abortion,” the statement read in part.
The abortion opponents who drafted the law have also made it difficult to challenge the law in court, in part because it’s unclear who to sue.
Late Tuesday night before the ban took effect, clinics were packed with patients, said Amy Hagstrom Miller, CEO of Whole Women’s Health, which has four abortion clinics in Texas.
Twenty-seven women were still in the waiting room after 10 p.m. at a clinic, leaving doctors crying and wondering if they would see them all in time, she said. The last abortion at one of his clinics ended at 11:56 p.m. in Fort Worth, where Hagstrom Miller said anti-abortion activists outside turned on bright lights in the parking lot after dark. night looking for wrongdoing and had called the police twice.
“This morning I woke up with deep sadness. I’m worried. I’m numb,” she said.
Texas has long had some of the toughest abortion restrictions in the country, including a sweeping law passed in 2013. The Supreme Court eventually struck down that law, but not before more than half of more than 40 state clinics.
Lawmakers are also moving forward in a special session underway in Texas with proposed new restrictions on medical abortion, a method using pills that accounts for about 40% of abortions in the United States.
Even before the Texas case came to the High Court, the justices had planned to tackle the issue of abortion rights in a major case that will be heard after the court resumes hearing arguments. in autumn. This case involves the state of Mississippi, which is asking to be allowed to enforce a ban on abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy.
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AP writer Paul J. Weber reported from Austin, Texas.