Abortion clinics ask US High Court to halt Texas' six-week ban

The Texas law would be the strictest in the nation, barring abortion after a fetal heartbeat can be detected. PHOTO: AFP

TEXAS (BLOOMBERG) - Abortion providers asked the US Supreme Court to stop a Texas law from taking effect Wednesday (Sept 1) and outlawing the procedure as early as six weeks into pregnancy.

The emergency filing sets up what could be a telling showdown at a conservative-controlled court already planning to hear a Mississippi appeal that seeks to overturn the core constitutional abortion right. The Texas law would be the strictest in the nation, barring abortion after a fetal heartbeat can be detected - and before many women know they are pregnant.

The challengers say the law would ban abortion for at least 85 per cent of patients in the state and force many clinics to close. The law "would immediately and catastrophically reduce abortion access in Texas," the providers, led by Whole Woman's Health, argued in court papers. The clinics and doctors are seeking to block the law from taking effect while the litigation goes forward. A New Orleans-based federal appeals court effectively barred any pre-enforcement challenge.

Justice Samuel Alito, who takes the first look at emergency matters from Texas, called for the defendants in the case to respond to the request by Tuesday at 5 pm in Washington. Alito could act on his own or refer the matter to the full nine-member court. The law's unusual enforcement mechanism is at the center of the clash.

The measure lets private parties sue anyone who helped a woman get an abortion - and collect a minimum of US$10,000 (S$13,453) in damages per procedure - but doesn't authorize government officials to sue.

That provision left unclear who challengers could sue to try to stop the law before it took effect. The defendants in the lawsuit include a state judge and clerk who the providers say will be responsible for handling cases filed in their courts. The complaint also names Mark Lee Dickson, who the clinics say has threatened to file suits against those who violate the act if the measure takes effect.

The defendants say the providers lack legal "standing" to sue at this stage because they can't show an imminent injury stemming from the law. The government defendants also say they are protected from suit by sovereign immunity. A federal trial judge had been set to consider stopping the law from taking effect, but a three-judge panel of the 5th US Circuit Court of Appeals blocked the lower court proceedings from going forward.

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