Office of the Texas Governor
A law banning almost all abortions after about six weeks went into effect on Sept. 1st in the state of Texas.
The law titled the “Texas Heartbeat Act,” was signed May 19th, 2021, by Texas Governor Greg Abbot and is the first abortion ban of its kind to be implemented in the US.
The bill states, “A physician may not intentionally perform or induce an abortion on a pregnant woman with the specific intent of causing or abetting the termination of the life of the woman’s unborn child if the physician detected a fetal heartbeat for the unborn child.”
According to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), 85 to 90 percent of abortions are performed six weeks or later in Texas. This means that nearly all abortions are no longer legal in the state. The only exceptions to the law are cases involving medical emergencies. Cases including rape or incest, however, are not exempt from its rulings.
The bill relies not on criminal enforcement via the state but instead relies on prosecution by private citizens through civil lawsuits.
As opposed to legal action being taken on patients, anyone who provides support in the process can be sued, including doctors, counselors, clinic staff members, members of the clergy and anyone who supplied a patient with transportation to an abortion clinic.
Additionally, the Heartbeat Bill creates a system wherein civilians can sue anyone involved in the abortion process for upwards of $10,000 in statutory damages.
The bill challenges Roe v. Wade, a case in which the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the United States Constitution protects a person’s right to have an abortion until the fetus is viable. However, the law manages to work around the rulings of the Roe v. Wade case through the use of civilian prosecution.
The Center for Reproductive Rights filed an emergency request to block the ban on Aug. 30th, 2021. However, this request was denied by the U.S. Supreme Court in a vote of 5-4, leading the case to proceed before the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals.
While Texas is the first state to implement a six-week ban bill, it is not the first state to pass a law of this nature. Idaho, Oklahoma and South Carolina have also passed similar bills that have yet to be administered due to legal obstacles.