A law in Texas that bans abortions as early as six weeks into pregnancy — before many women even know they are pregnant — went into effect early Wednesday, becoming one of the strictest abortion measures in the country.
While the Supreme Court may still rule on the measure, which contradicts precedents set by the landmark Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey decisions, the high court has so far been silent.
Here’s what to know about the new law.
What does the law do?
The measure bans abortion as soon as a fetal heartbeat is detected, which is around six weeks into pregnancy.
The law provides an exemption for “medical emergencies” but it does not have an exception when there is rape or incest.
The law was passed by the Texas House and Senate in mid-May and signed by Texas Governor Greg Abbott a few days later. It took effect on Sept. 1 after the Supreme Court failed to block it.
What makes this law different from previous measures seeking to restrict abortions?
The law was designed to make it difficult to be challenged in the courts because it prevents public officials from enforcing it, instead allowing private individuals to sue abortion providers or anyone who “aids or abets” the newly illegal abortions.
That description extends to people who drive the person to the procedure, or help pay for it, among other situations. At least one anti-abortion group has set up a website where people can anonymously submit tips about potential violations.
Instead of imposing a punishment for those who perform abortions after a fetal heartbeat is detected, the law allows anyone who helps a person obtain the procedure to sue. Anyone who successfully sues another person under the law would be entitled to at least $10,000.
Abortion rights advocates say the measure creates confusion over who to sue in court. A lawsuit would typically name state officials as defendants, allowing plaintiffs to sue the officials who are responsible for enforcing the law.
“SB 8 effectively puts a bounty on anyone who supports a pregnant person seeking abortion care after about 6 weeks in pregnancy,” Adrienne Kimmell, acting president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, said in a statement denouncing the law.
In an emergency request on Monday that asked the Supreme Court to block the measure, abortion providers in the state said it “would immediately and irreparably decimate abortion access in Texas, barring care for at least 85% of Texas abortion patients (those who are six weeks pregnant or greater) and likely forcing many abortion clinics to ultimately close.”
Similar laws banning abortions after six weeks that have been passed in states like Kentucky and Georgia have been blocked by federal courts. Abortion rights advocates fear that other states will take the court’s silence on the Texas law as tacit approval and pass similar measures.
Abortion providers described a scramble to perform procedures in the hours before the law took effect
On Tuesday night, abortion clinics in Texas were filled with patients seeking the procedure hours before the law went into effect.
Amy Hagstrom Miller, CEO of Whole Women’s Health, which has four abortion clinics in the state, wrote on Twitter after 10 p.m. on Tuesday night that the waiting rooms were “filled with patients and their loved ones,” and its staff would work up until the minute the law went into effect.
The last abortion at one of her clinics finished at 11:56 p.m. in Fort Worth, according to The Associated Press.
Whole Women’s Health also tweeted that anti-abortion activists were outside the clinic.
The anti-abortion protestors are outside, shining lights on the parking light. We are under surveillance.— Whole Woman's Health (@WholeWomans) September 1, 2021
This is what abortion care looks like. Human right warriors.
Amanda Kaufman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @amandakauf1.