Washington, 2 September 2021 (tca/dpa/MIA) – For the first time since 1973, a state law banning most abortions has taken effect in the US.
The Texas law that limits the availability of abortions after six weeks of pregnancy — in apparent defiance of Roe v. Wade — took effect early Wednesday after the Supreme Court did not act on a pending appeal.
The so-called Texas Heartbeat Act makes it illegal for doctors to perform an abortion after about the sixth week of a woman’s pregnancy. Under the Roe decision and subsequent rulings, abortions have been considered protected until the 23rd or 24th week of pregnancy.
The law also authorizes any person — including those with no relation to the doctor or the woman — to sue a physician and others for violating the measure and collect a 10,000-dollar fine.
Abortion providers said they may be forced to shut down or face a wave of costly lawsuits.
President Joe Biden in a statement condemned what he called “this extreme Texas law that blatantly violates the constitutional right established under Roe vs. Wade. … And outrageously, it deputizes private citizens to bring lawsuits against anyone who they believe has helped another person get an abortion, which might even include family members, health care workers, front desk staff at a health care clinic or strangers with no connection to the individual.”
Abortion opponents called the day a turning point for the movement in America.
Jeanne Mancini, president of March for Life, said the Texas law “highlights the humanity of children in the womb who have a detectable heartbeat by six weeks of development.
“States have the right to act on what science and ethics clearly tell us, which is that these children have their whole life ahead of them and deserve our protection.”
Employees at Texas abortion clinics were scrambling to explain the new law to patients.
“We’re getting patients who are scared, confused, angry. They’re asking questions about, ‘Is abortion still legal?’ ‘Can I still get an abortion, am I too far along?'” said Vanessa Rodriguez, contact center senior manager for Planned Parenthood of Texas.
“I have to tell them Texas politicians are taking away their right to make decisions they feel are right.”
Lawyers for Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers filed an emergency appeal Monday asking the Supreme Court to put the new law on hold so that a judge in Texas could rule on their legal challenges.
Providers fighting the law have told the courts it would eliminate 85 per cent of abortions statewide, force clinics to close and compel women to travel hundreds of miles out of state for abortions — or try to self-induce a miscarriage.
Last week, the 5th US Circuit Court of Appeals issued an order depriving a judge in Austin, Texas, of the authority to rule on the measure or block it from taking effect.
It’s highly unusual for the Supreme Court to take no action on an emergency appeal. The justices could be divided on how to proceed. Several may believe the law cannot be challenged as unconstitutional until someone is sued. It’s also possible one or more of the justices is preparing a lengthy dissent.
But the appeal is still pending, and the court could act on it at any time.
Abortion rights advocates said the Texas law clearly violates the Roe v. Wade decision, which overturned a Texas abortion ban in 1973 and said women had the right to end a pregnancy.
The court is already due to reexamine its abortion precedents in a Mississippi case scheduled to be heard in late fall. The new Texas law jumped ahead of the high court’s plans.
Texas had already enacted some of the nation’s toughest abortion restrictions in recent years. Those measures were later overturned by the courts but still took a toll on abortion providers who fought them.
Last year, Governor Greg Abbott managed to close Texas abortion clinics by declaring abortion among elective procedures suspended due to the pandemic. And in 2013, more than half of the state’s 40-plus clinics closed before the US Supreme Court struck down a state abortion law.