A Texas law that bans abortion after six weeks of pregnancy went into effect on Wednesday after the United States Supreme Court chose not to enjoin it from being enforced.
Many had expected the Court to intervene, by placing at minimum an injunction on the law to allow for further review at a later time. But as the midnight deadline on Wednesday morning passed, no action from the Court came about.
The new law, which went into effect on September 1, bans abortion for any person in Texas after six weeks of being pregnant (a time period during which many may not even realize that they are pregnant). Abortion providers have said that such a restriction effectively rescinds Roe v. Wade in the state, the landmark Supreme Court ruling in 1973 that said abortion was a legal right for everyone in the country.
The Supreme Court could still act on the matter, and enjoin the law from being enforced.
While highly restrictive, the law is unique in that it doesn’t place the onus for its enforcement on the state. Rather, Texas will allow individuals (including people from out of state) to sue abortion providers and others if they help a person procure an abortion. A person who helps someone else receive abortion services can be sued for up to $10,000 under the terms of the statute.
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, a Republican, has argued that because the state isn’t enforcing the law, the Supreme Court cannot legally intervene — it must wait until a civil suit is brought up, and then act upon it.
A federal judge in Texas disagreed with that assessment late last month and blocked enforcement of the law pending a hearing on it on August 30. But the United States Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, widely regarded as the most conservative in the nation, blocked judge Robert Pittman’s enjoinment of the law, and canceled the hearing.
The law is already affecting those seeking abortion services in the state. In mid-August, all 11 of the Planned Parenthood locations in Texas that offered abortion services stopped scheduling appointments for newly prohibited procedures after September 1. If more providers follow suit, the average Texan seeking abortion services would have to drive 248 miles one way on average (as opposed to 12 miles) — a 20-fold increase, noted the Rewire News Group.
The law is set to negatively impact marginalized communities hardest of all.
“The Texans who will be most harmed by this ban are low-income people of color — the majority of whom are parents caring for their children,” wrote the Lilith Fund, an organization that provides financial assistance to those seeking abortions in Texas, on its Twitter feed.
Texas lawmakers’ attempts to circumvent Roe v. Wade may also be replicated elsewhere, warned Tina Vasquez, senior staff writer for The Counter.
“Over and over and over again — whether it’s immigration or abortion access — we see that draconian policies are piloted in Texas before being parroted elsewhere,” Vasquez said. It’s a mistake to dismiss what happens there as ‘the backwards south.’ It’s a roadmap.”
In the absence of Supreme Court intervention, many were urging the Biden administration to take immediate action to address the situation in Texas.
“Last year, candidate Biden promised that he would pass legislation to make Roe ‘the law of the land.’ Now’s his chance,” said Niko Bowie, an assistant professor at Harvard Law School.