Texas Passes Anti-Abortion Law Seen as Strictest in Nation

The legislation prohibits abortions as early as six weeks, before some women know they are pregnant, with no exceptions for rape or incest.

Anti-abortion demonstrators gather at the Texas State Capitol in Austin on March 30, 2021. (Jay Janner/Austin American-Statesman via AP, File)

AUSTIN, Texas (CN) — Texas’ Republican governor signed a bill Wednesday to bar abortions after a fetal heartbeat is detected with a new wrinkle not seen in other GOP-led states with similar legislation: private citizens can sue abortion providers for violating the law.

The law, set to take effect in September, will prohibit abortions as early as six weeks, before many women even know they are pregnant, and it makes no exceptions for pregnancies caused by rape or incest.

It does provide an exception if a provider determines a medical emergency necessitated the abortion before checking for the fetus’ heartbeat. But they must place notes on why they made that decision in the woman’s file and keep a copy in their practice’s records.

Republican Governor Greg Abbott, a devout Catholic, deemed the legislation a priority early in the legislative session.

Signing Senate Bill 8 Wednesday morning, Abbott said it will ensure the “life of every unborn child who has a heartbeat will be saved from the ravages of abortion.”

He claimed the Legislature “worked together on a bipartisan basis” to pass the legislation, but records show Republicans pushed it through without any Democrats voting in favor of it.

Texas is the 14th state to pass a so-called heartbeat bill.

All controlled by Republicans and most in the South, the red states are eager to provoke legal challenges that wind up before the U.S. Supreme Court where they are hoping the court’s 6-3 conservative majority, established by three appointments by former President Donald Trump, will strike down the constitutional right to abortion established by the court’s 1973 decision in Roe v. Wade.

The ACLU of Texas said Abbott has signed the most extreme abortion ban in the country.

“Not only does this ban violate more than half a century of Supreme Court caselaw,” said ACLU of Texas policy strategist Drucilla Tigner, “it paves the way for anti-choice extremists to use our court system to go after anyone who performs abortions or considers supporting a person that has one. But make no mistake, abortion is both legal in Texas and supported by the majority of Texans.”

The government—state agencies, district or county attorneys, or any political subdivision—cannot enforce SB 8, nor can they bring assault or homicide charges against abortion providers who violate it.

Enforcement power is turned over to private citizens who can sue abortion providers, or anyone who aids and abets an abortion, including an insurer for reimbursing the costs of one.

If found to have violated the statute, defendants will face at least $10,000 in damages for each abortion they performed or induced.

SB 8 is designed to insulate the state from legal challenges. Since no state official can enforce it, legal experts say, abortion providers cannot name them as defendants in any lawsuit alleging the law is unconstitutional.

“Planned Parenthood can’t go to court and sue Attorney General [Ken] Paxton like they usually would because he has no role in enforcing the statute. They have to basically sit and wait to be sued,” South Texas College of Law Houston professor Josh Blackman told the Texas Tribune.

Texas’ move follows the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision Monday to hear a challenge of a Mississippi law banning abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy, which anti-abortion advocates hope the court’s conservative justices will uphold and start to hollow out the abortion protections set out in Roe.

The high court is expected to hear oral arguments for that case in the fall and issue a ruling in spring 2022 amid the campaigns for congressional midterm elections. Both anti-abortion and pro-abortion rights groups are already gearing up to leverage the litigation to whip up support for candidates who support their positions on abortion.

Though a fetal heartbeat can be detected as early as six weeks into a pregnancy, it’s not uncommon for women to go into labor without even realizing they were pregnant.

Lavinia Mounga went into labor on a flight from Salt Lake City to Honolulu on April 28 and gave birth prematurely, at 29 weeks, on the plane to a boy with the help of a doctor and three neonatal intensive care unit nurses who happened to be on board. “I just didn’t know I was pregnant. This guy just came out of nowhere,” Mounga said.

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