A highly controversial abortion law in Texas — which bars the practice in the state as early as six weeks into pregnancy, when many women don’t know yet that they’re expecting — took effect on Wednesday, with the U.S. Supreme Court not yet acting on pleas to intervene.
The law, SB8, passed by Texas lawmakers and signed by Gov. Greg Abbott in May, outlaws abortions as soon as a fetal heartbeat can be detected — which doctors say can be as soon as six weeks after conception.
Texas is one of several states that have passed restrictive new laws banning abortions early in pregnancy, but all the others have so far been blocked in court. If allowed to stand, Texas’ law would be the most restrictive abortion law in the United States.
The law, which critics consider a serious challenge to the Supreme Court’s landmark 1973 decision in Roe vs. Wade, is being challenged by abortion providers like Planned Parenthood and advocacy groups like the American Civil Liberties Union. They have filed an emergency petition asking the Supreme Court to step in and halt the law.
The high court had not yet acted on the petition by Wednesday morning, but could still intervene and stop the law in its tracks.
“With no emergency action from [the Supreme Court] to block the law yet, Texas’s radical 6-week abortion ban is now in effect,” Planned Parenthood said in a tweet Wednesday. “Know this: No matter what, we aren’t backing down and we are still fighting. Everyone deserves access to abortion.”
“The Supreme Court has not responded to our emergency request to block Texas’ radical new 6-week abortion ban, SB8,” the ACLU tweeted.
“Access to almost all abortion has just been cut off for millions of people. The impact will be immediate and devastating.
Texas lawmakers wrote the bill in a way that makes it difficult to challenge the court. Enforcement won’t be done by the state, but rather by citizens who can sue abortion providers and anyone involved in aiding abortions that are outlawed by the statute.
The law targets physicians who perform abortions and those who help women receive an abortion.
Opponents to the law say it will bar more than 85% of abortions performed in the state and force many clinics to close.
“Absent an injunction, applicants and thousands of other Texans will be stripped of their fundamental constitutional rights on Wednesday without ever receiving a decision on their fully briefed request for a preliminary injunction,” the opponents to the law said in their appeal to the Supreme Court.
The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals denied a request on Sunday to block the bill and canceled a hearing scheduled for Monday at which at least 20 abortion providers planned to testify.
Kim Schwartz of the anti-abortion organization Texas Right to Life has previously said her organization is confident that the law will be upheld.
“God bless Texas,” the group tweeted Wednesday.
Julie Murray, a staff attorney for Planned Parenthood, said her organization will try to keep clinics open in Texas on Wednesday but Helen Krasnoff, the organization’s vice president of public policy litigation and law, said some will have to start closing.
Some abortion clinics in Texas remained open until 11:59 p.m. on Tuesday to provide service until the last moment before the law took effect. Many were filled with patients, according to The Texas Tribune.