By Carol Zimmermann
WASHINGTON (CNS) — A Texas bill banning abortions after about six weeks of pregnancy became law Sept. 1 when the U.S. Supreme Court did not act on an emergency request to put the law on hold.
The law, signed by Republican Gov. Greg Abbott in May, became effective at midnight central time Sept. 1. It is one of the strictest abortion measures in the country, banning abortions in the state after a fetal heartbeat is detectable. The law has an exception for medical emergencies but not for rape or incest.
Court watchers on both sides of the issue kept vigil at the Supreme Court into the night waiting for an order that never came.
Abortion providers in the state had argued that the law would prevent about 85% of abortions in the state and will likely cause many clinics to close.
The Supreme Court could still act on the providers’ emergency request; it just did not respond before the law went into effect.
A unique part of the Texas law is that private citizens can enforce it by suing abortion providers and anyone involved in facilitating abortions.
Currently, at least 12 other states have legislation banning abortions early in pregnancy, but these bans have been blocked by courts.
“Hopefully, this law will begin saving the lives of tens of thousands of Texas babies and we look forward to the day that babies’ lives will be spared across America,” said Carol Tobias, president of National Right to Life.
She also applauded the efforts of the Texas Right to Life and “pro-life Texans who have been devoted to providing a voice for the voiceless. We praise all of our state affiliates who have diligently and tirelessly worked with state legislators to protect unborn babies by passing laws that protect children whose hearts have begun to beat,” she said in a Sept. 1 statement.
Two months after the law was signed, abortion providers challenged it in court, saying it violated patients’ constitutional right to end a pregnancy before viability, when a fetus is said to be able to survive on its own.
The Supreme Court has consistently ruled that states cannot restrict abortion before the 24-week mark. This fall, the court will take up a Mississippi abortion ban after 15 weeks of pregnancy.
Those appealing the state law filed a motion in late August that was denied by the district court. They turned to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit, which granted their request to put the district-court proceedings on hold but denied the challengers’ request to expedite the appeal, which led them to seek emergency relief from the Supreme Court Aug. 30.
Scotusblog, which reports on the Supreme Court, said the Texas attorney general and other defenders of the state’s abortion law had urged the Supreme Court to stay out of the dispute, saying the court is limited in its power to grant relief before laws have actually been enforced. They argued that courts can bar people from doing something, but they have no power to “expunge the law itself.”
In late March, the Texas Catholic Conference of Bishops, the public policy arm of the state’s bishops, said it was “thrilled to report” Senate passage of pro-life bills supported by the conference and said they were considered top priorities.