What Does Texas’ New Abortion Ban Actually Mean?

The U.S. Supreme Court declined to weigh in on a new Texas law that bans abortion after about six weeks of pregnancy. This is the first so-called “heartbeat bill” that has survived any legal challenge. The law’s scope is pretty big, making no exceptions for cases of rape or incest and allowing private citizens to sue abortion providers or even people who drive women to abortion clinics.

“Texas Right to Life reminds our elected officials of their solemn duty to protect the lives of their citizens, especially the most vulnerable and innocent Texans in the womb. The signing of the Texas Heartbeat Act marks a historic step in the battle to protect Life,” said the organization.

Here’s what it means for Texas, the rest of the country and the future of abortion laws in the U.S.

So what exactly does the Texas law ban? 

Laws like this are often called “heartbeat bills” because it bans abortion if a fetal heartbeat can be detected, usually around the six week mark. Many women don’t even realize they’re pregnant until after six weeks, so critics say it amounts to a de facto ban on all abortions.

Haven’t other states passed these laws? 

Other states have tried, but they’ve run afoul higher courts who say these laws are a violation of Roe V Wade. But this law is different. Instead of requiring police to enforce the law, it allows private citizens to level lawsuits against abortion providers and anyone who helps women procure an abortion that violates the ban’s timeline.

What kind of lawsuits are we talking about here?

A civil lawsuit which, if successful, could provide the person who brought the lawsuit at least $10,000. Texas Right to Life has set up a website for citizens to post anonymous tips about providers and anyone helping women get an abortion after six weeks. The women who attempt to get an abortion are not the one being sued.

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But this is just in Texas, right? 

For now, yes. But since the Supreme Court has allowed this law to go into effect, expect groups in other states to start working on versions of it for their own communities. Time will tell how successful those laws will be, since the actual impact of the Texas law remains unclear.

Is the Texas law permanent?

It’s hard to say. Court challenges are being mounted and abortion groups are planning protests. Abortion remains a controversial issue among Americans, though relatively few support a wholesale ban. According to the most recent Gallup poll, 48 percent of the U.S. think abortion should be legal under certain circumstances and 32 percent think it should be legal under all circumstances. Only 19 percent think abortion should never be legal. That might mean the law faces an uphill challenge as far as the electorate is concerned but, for now, it’s the law of the state.

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