The Supreme Court chose not to block Texas’s new abortion law, marking a monumental shift in reproductive rights in America
Every year, states try and (mostly) fail to enact strict abortion laws, undercutting the efficacy of Roe v. Wade. And every year, legal challenges to those laws successfully block them — abortion access is a constitutional right in the U.S. But this year, under a newly conservative Supreme Court, a Texas law banning abortions at 6 weeks has been allowed to go into effect, marking a monumental shift in abortion rights in the country, the likes of which hasn’t been seen since the 1970s.
The law went into effect in Texas at 12:01 a.m. today. It becomes one of the strictest abortion laws in the country, and will be enforced in Texas while a legal challenge continues to play out in lower courts. The issue was brought before the Supreme Court on an emergency basis over the weekend, but as the justices have yet to take any action, the law becomes enforceable for now. It could be overturned by the Supreme Court if they decide to rule on it later. But as of today, abortion providers in Texas must turn women away if their pregnancies are past six weeks — and clinics are reportedly already doing just that.
For decades, U.S. courts have generally agreed with the principle that abortion is a right before a fetus becomes viable — usually around 24 weeks. The Texas law bans abortion as soon as a heartbeat can be detected: Around 6 weeks — just two weeks after the first missed period, which is before many women even know that they are pregnant.
One of the most shocking and cruel parts of the law is that it’s not up to law enforcement or government officials to enforce it. That burden falls on private individuals in Texas, who are asked to bring lawsuits against abortion providers who they think are violating the ban and ask for monetary compensation for suing. The private citizens don’t even need any type of connection to the person they are suing. The law states that anyone who successfully sues an abortion provider can claim a reward of up to $10,000 per abortion for “statutory damages.” Medical emergencies are exempt from the ban, but rape and incest are not.
The Supreme Court is already set to hear a challenge on Mississippi’s 15-week abortion ban when it returns to session in October. With the addition of this new Texas law to the docket, the stage is set for 2022 to be a major year for abortion rights — or for diminishing them.