A Texas law banning abortions after a fetal heartbeat can be detected went into effect on Wednesday morning after the Supreme Court and a federal appeals court failed to act on emergency requests to stay the law.
The law was signed by Governor Greg Abbott in May, and has been challenged by various abortion providers. A fetal heartbeat can usually be detected at about the sixth week of pregnancy. Twelve other states have passed fetal heartbeat laws but they have all been struck down by the courts, making Texas the first state to successfully implement the measure, according to the Associated Press.
The Texas legislature “worked together on a bipartisan basis to pass a bill that I’m about to sign that ensures that the life of every unborn child who has a heartbeat will be saved from the ravages of abortion,” Abbott said before signing the legislation.
Supreme Court precedent prohibits the banning of abortion before the point of fetal viability, which usually occurs around 20 weeks but has been reduced in recent years thanks to medical advances.
In an attempt to head off potential lawsuits, state officials in Texas are barred from enforcing the new law. Instead, it grants private citizens from anywhere in the U.S. the right to sue someone who helps a woman have an abortion in Texas (the woman having an abortion cannot be sued under the new law). Abortion providers and anyone involved in bringing about the procedure, including someone who drives a woman to an abortion clinic, would be subject to a $10,000 penalty if sued.
A suit aiming to challenge a law as unconstitutional could name state officials as defendants.
The law “would immediately and catastrophically reduce abortion access in Texas, barring care for at least 85 percent of Texas abortion patients (those who are six weeks pregnant or greater) and likely forcing many abortion clinics ultimately to close,” abortion clinics and providers state in their emergency application to the Supreme Court to stay the law.
The Supreme Court is set to consider a challenge to Roe v. Wade in the coming term, which begins in October. The case concerns a Mississippi law which bans abortion after 15 weeks.