Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) has signed a piece of anti-abortion legislation that effectively bans the procedure at six weeks, which is before many patients even know they’re pregnant, and allows anyone to enforce the ban through lawsuits.
Like several similar bills that have moved through conservative legislatures across the country this year, the legislation requires abortion providers to check for a “fetal heartbeat” ― a term medical professionals say is misleading ― when a patient comes in for an abortion, and outlaws the procedure if one is detected.
Notably, the Texas legislation also allows any private citizen to enforce the ban through civil lawsuits ― an element that reproductive rights groups say is especially ruthless.
“This egregious abortion ban will not only push access to care entirely out of reach for millions of Texans, but adds a vicious layer of intimidation to those seeking abortion care and to those who provide it: civil lawsuits,” Andrea Miller, president of the National Institute for Reproductive Health, said in a statement. “The anti-abortion legislators behind this bill have made their intent clear: to harass, frighten, or bankrupt people who seek care and those who provide it.”
Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights, echoed the outrage over the citizen enforcement aspect of the bill.
“This bill essentially opens the floodgates to allow anyone who is hostile to abortion to sue doctors and clinics, consuming their resources and forcing them to shut down,” she said in a statement, noting her organization will pursue all legal options to stop the law from going into effect.
Most of the extreme anti-abortion bills passed this year have been tied up in legal battles preventing them from going into effect on schedule. Advocates for the legislation say that’s what they expected, and they’re hoping to bring the fight to the U.S. Supreme Court ― a body now loaded with conservative justices.
The possibility of the Supreme Court setting a new precedent on abortion access has inspired hundreds of attempted abortion restrictions this legislative cycle. So far, more than 60 have been signed into law, though most face court challenges. Other states where governors have signed six-week abortion bans this year include South Carolina and Oklahoma. Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson signed a bill in March that outright bans abortion with few exceptions.
The surge in bills can also be attributed to many anti-choice lawmakers gaining seats in state legislatures last November. Legislative attacks on abortion have been so numerous this year, the Guttmacher Institute said last month, that it may be considered the most devastating period for reproductive rights on record.
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