LUBBOCK, Texas — The Texas Heartbeat Act, passed as Senate Bill 8 in the 87th Regular legislative session, takes effect, along with 665 other laws, at midnight on September 1.
The bill bans abortions after six weeks of pregnancy, before most women know they are pregnant. That time window is far shorter than any other statewide abortion restriction in the nation, prompting Texas abortion providers to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court for an emergency halt to the law.
“This is one of the most extreme abortion bans in the country,” Planned Parenthood of Greater Texas external affairs director Sarah Wheat said. “The overwhelming majority of people who may seek an abortion will not be able to in Texas. We’re estimating 85 percent of patients in Texas who schedule and seek abortion appointments will not be able to access those appointments.”
Plaintiffs in Whole Women’s Health v. Jackson submitted an emergency petition for injunctive relief to Associate Justice of the Supreme Court Samuel Alito on Monday.
“It’s a question of whether the law will go into effect or not,” said Professor Richard Rosen, who teaches constitutional law at Texas Tech University School of Law. “If the law is simply stayed pending litigation, nothing happens. The status quo is maintained. If it’s allowed to go forward, then you will see abortions, maybe after a heartbeat is detected, stop in Texas.”
The bill is also unique in its enforcement mechanism. The bill incentivizes private citizens, rather than government officials, to enforce the ban by bringing their own lawsuits against abortion providers and anyone who assists someone to receive an abortion.
Planned Parenthood of Greater Texas says the law will not affect operations in Lubbock. The City of Lubbock has already passed a complete abortion ban.
“Lubbock’s ordinance, by the way, is clearly unconstitutional,” Rosen said. “The Court has said you can’t prohibit pre-viability abortions.”
“We’ll see what the Supreme Court does,” Rosen said. “We’ll see how quickly [Justice] Alito will act or whether he will send it to the full court… I never predict Supreme Court issues. I’m always surprised.”
Notwithstanding other litigation, inaction by the Supreme Court on this issue will allow the law to go into effect.