Texas Anti-Abortion Law Goes Into Effect – What to Know

protestors rally against restrictive new texas abortion law in austin

A protester dressed as a handmaiden holds up a sign at a protest outside the Texas State Capitol in May after Texas Gov. Greg Abbott signed the abortion bill.

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All over the country, restrictive abortion bans continue to be introduced at the state level. In Texas, a new bill goes one step further by incentivizing individuals to enforce the law with a $10,000 (or more) award to anyone who successfully sues someone providing or assisting a woman seeking an abortion after six weeks of pregnancy. Even religious leaders who provide emotional and spiritual counseling to patients considering abortion could be liable under the law. “The state has put a bounty on the head of any person or entity who so much as gives a patient money for an abortion after six weeks of pregnancy, before most people know they are pregnant,” Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights, said in a statement to ELLE.com. “Worse, it will intimidate loved ones from providing support for fear of being sued.”

The Supreme Court ruled on Friday that Texas abortion providers may still sue to stop the ban, but left the law in place in the meantime. Here’s everything you need to know.

Texas banned abortions as early as six weeks, one of the most restrictive measures in the U.S.

In May, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott signed the ban known as S.B. 8 that prohibits abortion when cardiac activity in cells that will eventually develop into a heart is detected. This means that many women in Texas who don’t know they are pregnant yet will not be allowed to get an abortion in the state. There are no exceptions for instances of rape or incest, but the bill offers a provision for “medical emergencies.”

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When Republican Gov. Greg Abbott signed the legislation at a closed-door ceremony, he said: “Our creator endowed us with the right to life and yet millions of children lose their right to life every year because of abortion. In Texas, we work to save those lives. That’s exactly what the Texas Legislature did this session.”

The Texas abortion ban opens the doors to legal action.

The new law allows private citizens to sue anyone they believe may have been involved in helping a pregnant person get an abortion. Black and Latinx communities will be disproportionately impacted. According to The Washington Post, nearly two-thirds of all Texas abortions in the last five years involved Black and Hispanic women.

Not only can literally anyone sue abortion funds and providers, but they can also sue friends of someone seeking an abortion—including the person who drove them to their appointment. Religious leaders who provide spiritual counsel to a woman considering an abortion could also be held liable. In an interview with ELLE.com, Rev. Angela Williams, a queer Presbyterian pastor, said she will continue to advocate for abortion access—no matter the consequences. “It is important to stand up and say, ‘No.’ We’ve been quiet and silent, and let things happen for fear of disturbing the waters and disturbing relationships—and we have seen the devastating consequences of that,” Williams said. “This has to come from a faith voice. As clergy, our calling comes from a higher power. We’ve taken sacred vows to accompany people, to love them, and to follow God’s call on our lives; to follow God as we move and breathe and exist in this world. If there are consequences for doing that, so be it.”

Abortion rights activists call the law a “bounty.”

Texas is just one of several states that have passed extremely restrictive abortion laws, but this new bill is uniquely terrifying, because it gives private citizens the power to enforce the law. Those found guilty of performing or inducing an abortion, plus anyone who “aids or abets the performance or inducement of an abortion” in violation of the ban could face a $10,000 fine.

Although abortion patients themselves cannot be sued under the Texas law, almost anyone close to them can be (think: a parent, an abusive significant other, or a health care provider).

Abortion rights advocates and providers filed a lawsuit to block the law.

A lawsuit was filed in Austin by Planned Parenthood, the Center for Reproductive Rights, the American Civil Liberties Union, and several other groups in an attempt to block the law.

“Texas legislators have tried for years to completely—and unconstitutionally—ban abortion,” Planned Parenthood President and CEO Alexis McGill Johnson said in a statement to ELLE.com. “Now they’re trying a new tactic: giving complete strangers the power to sue anyone who provides or helps someone get an abortion. This new law would open the floodgates to frivolous lawsuits designed to bankrupt health centers, harass providers, and isolate patients from anyone who would treat them with compassion as they seek out health care. The cruelty is the point—and we will not let it stand. Planned Parenthood will do everything in our power to fight S.B. 8 in court and ensure that every Texan is able to make their own decisions about their health and their future.”

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In order to block what the organizations behind the lawsuit call “unconstitutional” legislation, they are also reportedly attempting to stop Texas judges from enforcing the law and court clerks from accepting the lawsuits.

The Supreme Court heard arguments on the Texas abortion law.

In September, the Supreme Court failed to act on emergency requests from abortion providers and advocates to put the law on hold. On Friday, the Supreme Court ruled that a lawsuit challenging the legality of the ban can proceed before the law is enforced, but that it will remain in effect during that challenge.

Texas is not the only state with a dangerous abortion ban.

Abortion is still legal across the U.S., although restrictions and accessibility vary widely from state to state. Texas is just one of several states to introduce legislation that would make abortion illegal as soon as cardiac activity in cells that will eventually develop into a heart can be detected.

In May, the Supreme Court announced it would consider the legality of Mississippi’s ban on most abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy. Many abortion rights advocates believe this means that the Supreme Court, which now has a conservative majority, will reconsider Roe v. Wade. For more on what the future of abortion access looks like, read ELLE.com’s explainer on new U.S. abortion laws here.

You can find five ways to help defend abortion rights right now here.

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