Texas’ 6-week abortion ban officially takes effect, allowing anyone to sue abortion providers and people helping patients to a clinic

Texas abortion
Opponents and supporters of an abortion bill hold signs near a news conference outside the Texas Capitol, in Austin, Texas. Eric Gay/AP
  • A new Texas law went into effect banning abortions after six weeks of pregnancy.
  • The law lets anyone sue an abortion clinic or a person assisting the patient in getting an abortion.
  • Over a dozen abortion clinics in Texas appealed the law to the US Supreme Court, to no avail.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

A Texas law that bans abortions after six weeks of pregnancy went into effect on Wednesday, threatening access to abortions across the state.

The law is part of a slew of restrictive “heartbeat” abortion bans recently enacted by Republican governors. It prohibits abortions once a fetal heartbeat is detected, which typically occurs at the six-week mark, a time when some people do not yet know they are pregnant. The ban has no exceptions for cases of rape or incest, only for cases of medical emergencies.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott signed the law, known as SB 8, on May 19, near the end of the state’s legislative session. Abortion clinics in Texas asked the US Supreme Court to block the law from taking effect, arguing it would prohibit care for “at least 85% of Texas abortion patients” and ultimately force many clinics to shut down.

An application for an emergency injunction submitted by Texas abortion providers was not addressed by the high court, allowing the law to go into effect at midnight on September 1.

The Texas law is unique as it invites private citizens – not state officials – to enforce the ban. That means any private citizen can sue an abortion provider or anyone whom they believe helped a person get an abortion. The private citizen would be awarded at least $US10,000 ($AU13,667), in addition to legal expenses, for every successful lawsuit.

The state’s 11 Planned Parenthood abortion providers quit scheduling abortion appointments after six weeks of pregnancy in anticipation of the bill taking effect, according to reporting by The 19 th. The Planned Parenthood clinics were among over a dozen abortion providers in the state that sent an emergency appeal to the Supreme Court to intervene.

“Patients who can scrape together resources will be forced to attempt to leave the state to obtain an abortion, and many will be delayed until later in pregnancy,” the group wrote in their application to the Supreme Court. “The remaining Texans who need an abortion will be forced to remain pregnant against their will or to attempt to end their pregnancies without medical supervision.”

The development comes as the Supreme Court is due to consider a major abortion case this fall that could upend the 1973 landmark decision Roe v. Wade, which legalized abortion. The case, Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, concerns a Mississippi law that would ban nearly all abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy.

So far in 2021, state legislatures have enacted 90 abortion restrictions – a new record since 1973, according to Guttmacher Institute, a pro-abortion group that compiles data on reproductive health.