A new law banning abortions at six weeks went into effect in Texas on Wednesday morning (Sept. 1), becoming one of the strictest abortion laws in the country. The controversial ban passed with zero court intervention, as the Supreme Court and a federal appeals court failed to respond to abortion providers who asked for the ban to be blocked.
Under the Texas law, women will be barred from seeking abortions as soon as a fetal heartbeat is detectable, which is around six weeks and before many women know they’re pregnant. There are no exceptions for rape or incest, though the law does allow exemptions for “medical emergencies.”
The law also allows private citizens anywhere in the country to sue abortion providers or anyone who helps a woman get an abortion in violation of the ban. This could include someone who drives a woman to a clinic, provides financial assistance or a clergy member who helps a patient. According to NPR, citizens who file the civil suits also don't need to have any connection to the person they’re suing and could be awarded at least $10,000.
To facilitate this, the anti-abortion organization Texas Right to Life has launched a “whistleblower” website where people can submit anonymous tips about others possibly violating the ban.
“These lawsuits are not against the women,” John Seago of Texas Right to Life told NPR. “The lawsuits would be against the individuals making money off of the abortion, the abortion industry itself. So this is not spy on your neighbor and see if they’re having an abortion.”
However, reproductive rights groups and abortion providers say the law “places a bounty on people who provide or aid abortions... [and invites] random strangers to sue them.”
On Tuesday night (Aug. 31), two hours before the ban went into effect, a Whole Women’s Health clinic in Texas tweeted that it still had “staff and doctors providing abortions” and waiting rooms “filled with patients and their loved ones.”
“The anti-abortion protestors are outside, shining lights on the parking light,” the clinic added. “We are under surveillance.”
After the ban went into effect on Wednesday, the ACLU tweeted, “Access to almost all abortion has just been cut off for millions of people, the impact will be immediate and devastating.”
The six-week ban comes as justices are set to rule on the constitutionality of a Mississippi law that prohibits abortion at 15 weeks. Pro-choice advocates have said both the Mississippi and Texas laws directly challenge Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 opinion that legalized abortion nationwide.