Texas now has the most severe abortion restrictions in the nation.
The state’s new “heartbeat bill” went into effect this week, prohibiting abortions once a fetal heartbeat can be detected, usually around six weeks and before people typically know they are pregnant. Senate Bill 8 (SB 8), which was signed by Republican governor Greg Abbott in May 2021, is the latest conservative effort to restrict abortion access and to challenge Roe v. Wade.
According to The New York Times, providers in the state began turning away people seeking to end their pregnancies, with Planned Parenthood and other Texas clinics announcing they stopped scheduling the procedures beyond six weeks.
In addition to its scope, SB 8 was written in a way that makes it difficult to challenge in court. Rather than having state officials enforce the law, it authorizes private individuals to sue anyone who performs abortions or “aids and abets” them. The invasive measure means that Texas residents can sue anyone tangentially involved in an abortion, including a person who helps pay for the procedure or medication, or even the Uber driver who transports the person to the clinic.
Plaintiffs, who do not need to have any connection to the matter, are also incentivized to bring forth these cases. The law entitles them to $10,000 and their legal fees recovered if they win their case.
Texas providers attempted to block the law before it went into effect, sending an application for an emergency intervention to the Supreme Court. The application argued that SB 8 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.”
The highest court in the land did not respond to this request to intervene before SB 8 went into effect, later declining to block it. In the meantime, the conservative-led court already has a case concerning Mississippi’s 15-week abortion law on the docket for its next term.
President Joe Biden has decried the law, saying that it will “significantly impair women’s access to the health care they need.” His platform has included a promise to protect Roe v. Wade since his election.
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