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What The Texas Abortion Ban Does — And What It Means For Other States

Protesters demonstrate outside the Texas Capitol in Austin in late May in response to a bill that outlaws abortions after a fetal heartbeat is detected.
Protesters demonstrate outside the Texas Capitol in Austin in late May in response to a bill that outlaws abortions after a fetal heartbeat is detected.

With the U.S. Supreme Court mum, a new law went into effect in Texas that bans abortions after about six weeks of pregnancy. That's well before many women even know they are pregnant.

The law allows private citizens to sue abortion providers and anyone else who helps a woman obtain an abortion — including those who give a woman a ride to a clinic or provide financial assistance to obtain an abortion. Private citizens who bring these suits don't need to show any connection to those they are suing.

The law makes no exceptions for cases involving rape or incest.

Here's why the law is one of the strictest abortion bans in the country.

What does the Texas law prohibit?

It bans abortion as soon as cardiac activity is detectable. That's around six weeks, which is before a lot of people know that they're pregnant. Other states have tried to do this, but those laws have been challenged by abortion-rights groups and blocked by federal courts again and again.

How is this law different from other states' efforts?

Groups who oppose abortion rights have pushed for this Texas law, hoping that it will be harder for federal courts to knock it down. Instead of requiring public officials to enforce the law, this law allows individuals to bring civil lawsuits against abortion providers or anyone else found to "aid or abet" illegal abortions.

This law empowers individuals to enforce an abortion ban. How would that work in practice?

Anyone who successfully sues an abortion provider under this law could be awarded at least $10,000. And to prepare for that, Texas Right to Life has set up what it calls a "whistleblower" website where people can submit anonymous tips about anyone they believe to be violating the law.

"These lawsuits are not against the women," says John Seago with Texas Right to Life. "The lawsuits would be against the individuals making money off of the abortion, the abortion industry itself. So this is not spy on your neighbor and see if they're having an abortion."

In a federal lawsuit challenging this, a coalition of abortion providers and reproductive rights groups said the law "places a bounty on people who provide or aid abortions, inviting random strangers to sue them."

While Texas doctors say they will comply with the new law, they must address patients' concerns and questions, including about how to get an out-of-state procedure.
Sergio Flores / Getty Images
While Texas doctors say they will comply with the new law, they must address patients' concerns and questions, including about how to get an out-of-state procedure.

What does the law mean for patients and abortion providers?

Dr. Bhavik Kumar, a family medicine doctor who works for Planned Parenthood in Houston, says the law creating a lot of uncertainty for patients and providers. But Kumar insists he will comply.

The ban, though, will likely mean a lot of questions from patients about how they can get an abortion outside of Texas, Kumar said.

"I know that there are many people who don't have to ability to make it out of state ... The logistics and ability to do so is not an option for them," he said. "So I'm really concerned about what's going to happen to people."

Dr. Ghazaleh Moayedi, an OB/GYN, told NPR over the weekend that patients are apprehensive. "They understand that the abortion that they're having this week, last week, the week before, is something that they wouldn't be able to have next week. They've been asking about it and asking, you know, 'If I were here in September, would I be able to get this?' "

What does this mean for abortion laws in other states?

If the federal courts ultimately allow this law to stand, it's very likely that other conservative states will move to pass similar laws. Seago, with Texas Right to Life, said his organization is working with activists in multiple states who are eager to replicate this model if it succeeds in blocking access to most abortions in Texas.

"It is still a bit untested. We're still working on what these lawsuits are going to look like if the industry decides to break the law," Seago said. "So it is a new model that we're still testing out."

What happens next?

Multiple court challenges to the law are underway, including several lawsuits in state court in Texas targeting anti-abortion-rights groups including Texas Right to Life. Abortion rights groups are also organizing protests and demonstrations in Texas in opposition to the law.

A spokeswoman for Texas Right to Life told NPR that no lawsuits against abortion providers are imminent, and abortion providers say they will comply with the law as long as it is in effect.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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