Texas abortion law explained: Everything you need to know

·3 min read
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott speaks during a border security briefing with sheriffs from border communities at the Texas State Capitol on July 10 in Austin, Texas (Getty Images)
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott speaks during a border security briefing with sheriffs from border communities at the Texas State Capitol on July 10 in Austin, Texas (Getty Images)

Abortions are now banned after six weeks of pregnancy in Texas, in effect putting an end to Roe v Wade in the state.

What is the new law?

The Texas law was passed by the state legislature in May and bans abortions when fetal cardiac activity is detected – long before many women are even aware that they’re pregnant. The legislation is one of the most stringent abortion laws in the US.

Abortion providers are prohibited from performing an abortion if they can detect fetal heart tones, something the ban describes as “cardiac activity or the steady and repetitive rhythmic contraction of the fetal heart within the gestational sac”.

In a research brief, the Texas Policy Evaluation Project at the University of Texas at Austin state that “fetal cardiac activity can be detected by ultrasound as early as 5-6 weeks’ gestation, before the fetus’ heart has actually developed. The law allows exceptions only for medical emergencies”.

The law has no exceptions for rape or incest.

The university researchers note that even those who realise early that they are pregnant may not find an appointment within the deadline set by the new law.

The law is intended to put the onus of enforcing the law on private citizens instead of government officials – making it harder to secure a legal challenge.

The legislation gives private citizens the ability to sue abortion providers or anyone who “aids and abets” someone to get an abortion – such as a friend who drives someone to an abortion clinic or a person who provides financial assistance to help with the costs of an abortion. Someone who has had an abortion cannot be sued under the law.

The citizens who choose to sue don’t need to show any connection to the person they’re suing, and if they succeed, the law states that they are entitled to at least $10,000 in damages in addition to legal costs. They also don’t have to live in the state.

Abortion providers have said that this will motivate abortion “bounty hunters”.

“The law would particularly affect Black patients and those living on low incomes or who live far from a facility that provides abortion because they often experience delays obtaining care,” the research brief adds. The main reasons some Texans may be delayed in seeking care includes finding the funds for a visit, as abortions are not covered by Medicaid and most private insurance companies in the Lone Star State.

Finding time in between jobs, schooling, and childcare for the ultrasound mandated by the state of Texas and separate visits for the actual abortion with the same physician as is required by state law is another reason a visit may take time to facilitate for many patients.

When did the law come into effect?

The US Supreme Court received an emergency request to stop the law from taking effect by midnight on Tuesday but chose not to act, allowing the policy to become law despite challenges to the legislation in court.

How does the law ignore Roe v Wade?

The law goes against Supreme Court precedents that have stopped states from passing laws banning abortion before fetal viability, which is usually after between 22 and 24 weeks of pregnancy.

Abortion providers say that if the law is allowed to remain in place it would stop the vast majority of patients seeking an abortion from getting one in Texas.

The law is now in effect but is being challenged in court.

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