Editor's note: This story was updated Sept. 2, 2021.
Sept. 1, 2021 -- A Texas law that bans abortions at 6 weeks went into effect on Wednesday, becoming one of the strictest in the country since the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision legalized abortion nationwide.
The new law, which was signed by Gov. Greg Abbott in May, proceeded after the Supreme Court and a federal court declined to act on emergency appeals to put it on hold. The court voted 5-4 late Wednesday to deny a motion by abortion providers to block the law from taking effect.
“What ultimately happens to this law remains to be seen,” Steve Vladeck, a professor at the University of Texas Law School, told CNN.
“But now through their inaction, the justices have let the tightest abortion restriction since Roe v. Wade be enforced for at least some period of time,” he said.
The Texas law allows citizens to bring civil suits against anyone who helps a pregnant person seeking a banned abortion. The law prohibits abortions once a fetal heartbeat is detected, which is usually around 6 weeks and often before most people know that they are pregnant, according to The Associated Press.
No other 6-week ban has been allowed to go into effect in the U.S., CNN reported. There are no exceptions for rape or incest, although there is a “medical emergency” exemption.
Abortion providers are asking the Supreme Court to block the ban, saying that the law rules out 85% of abortions in Texas and would force many clinics to close, the AP reported.
Even a temporary ban, they said, would “immediately and catastrophically reduce abortion access in Texas,” CNN reported. Lawsuits could be filed against a range of people, including those who drive their friends to an abortion clinic, those who provide financial help for an abortion, or clergy members who help patients.
At least 12 other states have enacted abortion bans for early pregnancy, but all have been blocked from taking effect, the AP reported. The Texas law is particularly unique because private citizens can sue, and anyone who successfully sues another person would be entitled to at least $10,000.
On Wednesday morning, the ban already had an effect, CNN reported. Whole Woman’s Health, which has clinics in McAllen, McKinney, Austin, and Fort Worth, said it was offering the procedure only “if no embryonic or fetal cardiac activity is detected in the sonogram.”
But on Tuesday night, the clinic provided abortions until the law took effect at midnight. In a series of Twitter posts, it described the scene, with anti-abortion protesters outside, shining lights on the parking lot.
“Our waiting rooms are filled with patients and their loved ones. Right now,” the clinic posted about an hour before closing. “This is what abortion care looks like. Human rights warriors.”
Texas has had some of the nation’s toughest abortion restrictions, the AP reported, including a 2013 law that the Supreme Court eventually struck down. In an ongoing special session, Texas lawmakers are also moving forward with proposed restrictions on medication abortion.