AUSTIN, Texas - The new "heartbeat" abortion law in Texas hasn’t even been in effect for a week, and already the political and legal fallout is being felt.
As lawsuits play out in Texas, and advocates on both sides of the abortion issue closely watch the latest developments, nationally politicians are dueling over what the law could mean for the future of abortion rights.
In addition to banning all abortions after a heartbeat is detected around six weeks into a pregnancy, uniquely this law, which took effect September 1st, allows private citizens to sue an abortion provider—or simply anyone who helps someone get an abortion that violates these parameters.
However, a temporary restraining order was issued by a district court judge in Austin—shielding abortion clinics operated by Planned Parenthood from being sued by the nonprofit "Texas Right to Life". A full hearing on the issue is set for September 13th.
Before Friday’s state court order, though, the US Supreme Court allowed the heartbeat law to stand by a five-to-four vote—denying an emergency appeal from abortion providers in Texas, but leaving the door open for future challenges.
Texas abortion clinics say they will comply with the new law as the legal process continues to play out.
"It comes with a new set a fear it comes with a new set of responsibility and a new set of what could possibly happen," said Marva Sadler, Senior Director of Clinical Services at Fort Worth-based Whole Women’s Health, one of the plaintiffs in the appeal to the Supreme Court.
"Patients will have to figure out what they're going to do if they're going to become parents or if they can get to another state," Sadler adds.
Despite the fact that the Supreme Court ruling did not address the overall constitutionality of the law, Texas Right to Life is nonetheless calling it a win.
"The Texas Heartbeat Act is different in that it allows private citizens to sue abortionists and hold abortionists accountable," said Kim Schwartz, Director of Media Relations with Texas Right to Life. "So this means that preborn babies in Texas are protected once their heartbeats are detected, and that occurs as early as six weeks in pregnancy."
CONCERNS OVER FUTURE OF LANDMARK ABORTION CASE ROE V WADE
The Supreme Court ruling is fueling questions about the future of Roe v. Wade, and whether other Republican-led states could successfully pass similar laws to the one in Texas.
Leaders in South Dakota, Florida and Missouri are already saying they may try to copy the Texas law. In response, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, speaking in Austin Friday, said she will bring a House vote on the Women’s Health Protection Act, which would solidify the protections of Roe v. Wade in federal law—though the bill would face an uphill battle in the Senate.
"When we go back to Washington, we will be putting Roe v Wade codification on the floor of the House, to make sure that women everywhere have access to the reproductive health that they need," said Pelosi.
"I think it was a highly technical decision. Whether it leads to a broader ruling on Roe versus Wade is unclear at this point," said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
Some progressives in Congress, like Rep. Alexandria Ocasio Cortez of New York and Sen. Ed Markey of Massachusetts, have suggested expanding the Supreme Court to allow President Biden to appoint more liberal, pro-choice justices. Biden has yet to say whether he would be in favor of so-called "court packing."
As all this plays out, both Lyft and Uber say they will help cover legal fees for drivers who are sued under the new law—for driving someone to an abortion clinic, for example. Austin-based dating app Bumble has set up a fund to support women seeking abortions in Texas. And the head of match.com says the company will pay for any match employees who need to obtain abortions out of state.
Meanwhile, pro-choice activists in Austin and beyond are organizing a Women’s March, set for October 2nd, to speak out against the heartbeat law.
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