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The Texas law makes the state's abortion rules the strictest in the US. Abortion campaigners failed in a court challenge to block the law. Texas dodged existing US abortion laws by using an unusual enforcement system.
Abortion-rights campaigners have branded a Texas law prohibiting abortions six weeks after conception as "cruel" because they say it could impact 85% of terminations, including cases of rape or incest.
Originally signed by Texas Governor Greg Abbott in May, the law, which went into effect Wednesday after the US Supreme Court refused to block it, forbids abortions in the state once a heartbeat is detected.
Heartbeats can normally be heard around six weeks after conception, at roughly the same time or even before unplanned pregnancies tend to be discovered.
The "heartbeat bill," as it has come to be known, has effectively made Texas the harshest state for abortions in the entire country as of September 1.
The American Civil Liberties Union, Planned Parenthood and the Center for Reproductive Rights were among the groups that asked the Supreme Court to block the bill. The country's highest court did not take up the case, nor did judges rule on the constitutionality of the law.
The court, which was sharply divided on the decision, cited "complex and novel procedural issues." The court voted 5-4 to deny the emergency appeal.
"Presented with an application to enjoin a flagrantly unconstitutional law engineered to prohibit women from exercising their constitutional rights and evade judicial scrutiny, a majority of justices have opted to bury their heads in the sand," wrote liberal Justice Sonia Sotomayor in a dissenting opinion.
"Approximately 85 to 90 percent 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," an ACLU spokesperson said.
Most other US states that tried to restrict abortion earlier on in pregnancy have been stopped by the 1973 Roe v. Wade Supreme Court ruling that first made abortion legal across the country.
"The Supreme Court's ruling overnight is an unprecedented assault on a woman's constitutional rights under Roe v. Wade, which has been the law of the land for almost fifty years," US President Joe Biden said in a statement released Thursday.
"This law is so extreme it does not even allow for exceptions in the case of rape or incest," Biden added.
The president pledged a "whole-of-government effort," to counter the law and ensure that "women in Texas have access to safe and legal abortions."
This would include exploring legal tools at the government's disposal to "insulate women and providers from the impact of Texas' bizarre scheme," the statement said.
The new Texas law gets around legal rights enshrined in Roe v. Wade by empowering private citizens to sue people who either provide or facilitate abortions, rather than calling on the government and law enforcement to police the restrictions.
The ACLU argued that the 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."
"Anyone who successfully sues a health center worker, an abortion provider, or any person who helps someone access an abortion after six weeks will be rewarded at least $10,000, to be paid by the person sued," it added.
The ACLU also said that anti-abortion groups have already started to create websites to give Texans the chance to "submit 'anonymous tips' on doctors, clinics and others who violate the law."
Even a person who drives someone to an abortion clinic could be liable to be sued for having helped enable the procedure.
"By allowing a law to go into effect that empowers private citizens in Texas to sue health care providers, family members supporting a woman exercising her right to choose after six weeks, or even a friend who drives her to a hospital or clinic, it unleashes unconstitutional chaos and empowers self-anointed enforcers to have devastating impacts," President Biden said.
Women, who often do not discover they are pregnant before six weeks, will now be left with the option to either go outside Texas to have an abortion, get an illegal abortion in Texas, or have an unwanted pregnancy.
Nancy Northup of the Center for Reproductive Rights said it would make women "travel out of state — in the middle of a pandemic — to receive constitutionally guaranteed health care.
"Many will not be able to afford to," Northup said. "It's cruel, unconscionable, and unlawful." The Texas law could also force many abortion clinics to shut down.
jc, lc/sms (AFP, AP, Reuters)