Texas governor signs 'heartbeat Bill' banning abortion at six weeks

The Bill, signed by Texas Governor Greg Abbott (pictured), joins a conservative push to change the rules on one of the most divisive issues in the US. PHOTO: REUTERS

WASHINGTON (AFP) - The governor of Texas on Wednesday (May 20) signed a Bill banning abortion at six weeks, joining a conservative push to change the rules on one of the United States' most divisive issues.

The law - dubbed the "heartbeat Bill" by proponents - makes no exception for rape or incest and will make Texas one of the hardest states in the US to get an abortion.

It comes just days after the nation's highest court agreed to hear a case that could challenge a landmark 1973 Supreme Court decision enshrining abortion as a legal right.

"This Bill ensures the life of every unborn child with a heartbeat will be saved from the ravages of abortion," said Republican Governor Greg Abbott.

At least 10 other Republican-led states have passed similar legislation banning abortions once a foetal heartbeat can be detected, which is usually around the sixth week of pregnancy.

All of the Bills have been struck down by the courts because they violate Roe v Wade, a Supreme Court ruling which authorised abortion as long as the foetus is not yet able to survive outside of the womb, which happens at between 22 to 24 weeks.

But the Supreme Court is due to hear a case that could challenge that decision, involving a Mississippi law that prohibits abortions after the 15th week of pregnancy except in cases of a medical emergency or a severe foetal abnormality.

It will be the first abortion case considered by the Supreme Court since former president Donald Trump cemented a conservative majority on the nine-member panel.

Abortion is a divisive issue in the US, with strong opposition especially among evangelical Christians.

'Chilling effect'

The new Texas law authorises a private citizen to sue abortion providers or anyone helping someone undergo the procedure.

It has faced opposition from the state's medical community, with 200 doctors signing an open letter earlier this month urging legislators to reconsider.

"These Bills create a chilling effect that might prevent physicians from providing information on all pregnancy options to patients out of fear of being sued," the letter read.

"The Texas legislature has no right to cause this type of grievous harm to Texas physicians or the people we serve."

Reproductive rights activists warn that the six-week cut-off point would ban abortion before many women even know they are pregnant.

"For a person with a normal menstrual cycle, that is only two weeks after a missed period," said Ms Alexis McGill Johnson, president of the Planned Parenthood Action Fund, describing it as one of the most "extreme in the country".

"When you factor in the time it takes to confirm a pregnancy, consider your options and make a decision, schedule an appointment and comply with all the restrictions politicians have already put in place for patients and providers, a six-week ban essentially bans abortion outright."

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