Texas six-week abortion ban takes effect after US Supreme Court fails to act

Protesters standing outside the Texas state capitol during a demonstration in Austin, Texas, on May 29, 2021.
Protesters standing outside the Texas state capitol during a demonstration in Austin, Texas, on May 29, 2021.PHOTO: AFP

WASHINGTON (AFP) - A Texas law that bans abortion after six weeks, and makes no exception for rape or incest, took effect on Wednesday (Sept 1) after the Supreme Court did not act on an emergency request to block it.

Governor Greg Abbott, a Republican, signed the Bill in May, making Texas one of a dozen states banning abortion once a foetal heartbeat can be detected - which is usually in the sixth week of pregnancy.

The Supreme Court may still grant the request from rights groups and abortion providers to halt the so-called "heartbeat Bill", which makes Texas one of the hardest states in the United States to get an abortion.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Planned Parenthood, the Centre for Reproductive Rights and other groups filed an emergency request with the Supreme Court on Monday asking it to stop the law from taking effect.

"Approximately 85 to 90 per cent of people who obtain an abortion in Texas are at least six weeks into pregnancy, meaning this law would prohibit nearly all abortions in the state," ACLU said.

The other states that have sought to enact restrictions on abortion in the early stages of pregnancy have been barred from doing so by the landmark 1973 Supreme Court ruling Roe v Wade.

That decision allowed abortion so long as the foetus is not viable, which is usually the case until the 22nd to 24th weeks of pregnancy.

Texas's law is different because it allows the public - rather than state officials like prosecutors or health departments - to enforce the ban.

The Texas law "creates a bounty hunting scheme that encourages the general public to bring costly and harassing lawsuits against anyone who they believe has violated the ban", the ACLU said.

"Anyone who successfully sues a health centre worker, an abortion provider, or any person who helps someone access an abortion after six weeks will be rewarded with at least US$10,000 (S$13,500) to be paid by the person sued," it said.

"Anti-abortion groups in Texas have already set up online forms enlisting people to sue anyone they believe is violating the law and encouraging people to submit 'anonymous tips' on doctors, clinics, and others who violate the law," it said.

Ms Nancy Northup, president of the Centre for Reproductive Rights, said the Texas Bill would force women to "travel out of state - in the middle of a pandemic - to receive constitutionally guaranteed healthcare".

"Many will not be able to afford to," Ms Northup said. "It's cruel, unconscionable, and unlawful."

Ms Alexis McGill Johnson, president of Planned Parenthood, said the Supreme Court is being asked "to uphold 50 years of precedent and ensure Texans won't be denied their constitutional right to abortion".

The Supreme Court is due to hear a case this autumn involving a Mississippi law that prohibits abortions after the 15th week of pregnancy except in cases of medical emergency or a severe foetal abnormality.

It will be the first abortion case considered by the nation's high court since former president Donald Trump cemented a conservative majority on the nine-member panel.