In a statement after the law took effect, President Joe Biden said it “blatantly violates the constitutional right established under Roe versus Wade and upheld as precedent for nearly half a century.” And he said the law “outrageously” gives private citizens the power “to bring lawsuits against anyone who they believe has helped another person get an abortion”.
In a phone call with reporters early Wednesday, Marc Hearron, a lawyer for the Centre for Reproductive Rights, said that “as of now, most abortion is banned in Texas”.
The clinics have said the law would rule out 85 per cent of abortions in Texas and force many clinics to close. Planned Parenthood is among the abortion providers that have stopped scheduling abortions beyond six weeks from conception.
Abortion rights advocates say the Texas law will force many women to travel out of state for abortions, if they can afford to do so and also navigate issues including childcare and taking time off work. It is also expected to increase the number of women seeking to self-induce abortions using pills obtained by mail.
At least 12 other states have enacted bans on abortion early in pregnancy, but all have been blocked from going into effect.
What makes the Texas law different is its unusual enforcement scheme. Rather than have officials responsible for enforcing the law, private citizens are authorised to sue abortion providers and anyone involved in facilitating abortions.
That would include anyone who drives a woman to a clinic to get an abortion. Under the law, anyone who successfully sues another person would be entitled to at least $US10,000.
Abortion opponents who wrote the law also made it difficult to challenge the law in court, in part because it’s hard to know whom to sue.
Late into the night Tuesday before the ban took effect clinics were filled with patients, said Amy Hagstrom Miller, CEO of Whole Women’s Health, which has four abortion clinics in Texas.
Twenty-seven women were still in the waiting room after 10pm at one clinic, leaving doctors crying and scrambling over whether they would see all of them in time, she said. The last abortion at one of her clinics finished at 11:56pm in Fort Worth, where Hagstrom Miller said anti-abortion activists outside shined bright lights in the parking lot after dark looking for wrongdoing, and twice called police.
“This morning I woke up feeling deep sadness. I’m worried. I’m numb,” she said.
Republican state Representative Shelby Slawson wrote on Facebook after the ban took effect that it was “with great sadness that I relate to you that late into the night, some in Texas were scrambling to end as many unborn lives as they could before the clock struck midnight.” Her colleague, Republican state Representative Jeff Leach wrote on Twitter after the ban went into effect that “LIFE is winning in America … and Texas is leading the way!”
The law is part of a hard-right agenda that Texas Republicans muscled through the statehouse this year ahead of the 2022 midterm elections, when Abbott is up for a third term as governor.
Even before the Texas case arrived at the high court the justices had planned to tackle the issue of abortion rights in a major case that will be heard after the court begins hearing arguments again in the Autumn.
That case involves the state of Mississippi, which is asking to be allowed to enforce an abortion ban after 15 weeks of pregnancy.