AUSTIN, Texas — A Texas law banning most abortions in the state took effect at midnight, but the Supreme Court has yet to act on an emergency appeal to put the law on hold.
If allowed to remain in force, the law would be the most dramatic restriction on abortion rights in the United States since the high court’s landmark Roe v. Wade decision legalized abortion across the country in 1973.
Unless the Supreme Court blocks the Texas Heartbeat Bill, women in the state will not be able to have an abortion after a fetal heartbeat is detected.
Heartbeats can be detected as soon as six to twelve weeks into a pregnancy. Prior to Wednesday, women in Texas were allowed to get an abortion up to 20 weeks into a pregnancy.
Gov. Greg Abbott signed Senate Bill 8 into law in May, and there are no exceptions in the law when it comes to rape or incest.
The way the bill is enforced is unusual. Instead of setting criminal penalties, as other abortion restrictions do, it asks private citizens to enforce the ban by suing doctors or anyone who helps a woman get an abortion. Assisting an abortion includes things such as driving someone to an appointment or paying for it. However, the law doesn’t allow for suing the pregnant woman seeking an abortion.
Under the law, anyone who successfully sues another person would be entitled to at least $10,000.
“At a time when the health care needs of Texans are greater than ever, the state should be making abortion more accessible, not less,” Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights, said. “There is no question that today’s decision will harm those who already face the greatest barriers to health care. We are analyzing this decision and will consider all of our legal options.”
John Pisciotta, founding director of Pro-Life Waco, said he was excited to see what could happen with this bill in effect.
“We want to save babies, and the thought that tomorrow could not be an abortion week in Waco,” he said.
The law would rule out 85% of abortions in Texas and force many clinics to close, the providers and abortion rights advocates supporting them said in an emergency filing with the high court on Monday. For now, Planned Parenthood clinics in Texas have stopped scheduling abortions beyond six weeks from conception, spokeswoman Sarah Wheat said.
“Due to the new law, our health centers are not able to provide abortions to patients after tomorrow unless they meet these extreme new restrictions,” she said.
At least 12 other states have enacted bans on abortion early in pregnancy, but all have been blocked from going into effect.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.