Texas' law banning abortions after six weeks of pregnancy took effect at midnight on September 1. Lawsuits are currently pending, but for now, clinics must comply with the six-week ban. Whole Woman's Health, one abortion provider in the state that was named in the joint plea to the Supreme Court by providers to block the law, was still providing abortions up to 11:59 p.m. Tuesday night, CEO Amy Hagstrom Miller tweeted.
Originally published by The 19th
The law also empowers private citizens to sue anyone they believe may have “aided or abetted" someone getting an abortion after six weeks, which has caused confusion.
Here's what you need to know now that the law has taken effect.
What does this mean for abortion access right now?
The law is currently in effect. There is an exemption for broadly defined medical emergencies, but no exemptions in the law for rape or incest.
If believe you may be pregnant and would want an abortion, you essentially have a two week window — the luteal phase of pregnancy, where early symptoms include food cravings, headaches, bloating and breast tenderness — to seek abortion care.
The pregnancy clock starts by counting back to the person's last menstrual cycle, as The 19th's Shefali Luthra explained earlier this year. A typical menstrual cycle is 28 days, or four weeks, though many people have irregular periods. Those factors mean someone might not realize they are pregnant until 30 or 40 days, which is just shy of the six-week deadline.
“This is essentially a ban of almost all abortion in Texas except for those who know pretty immediately that they are pregnant — a physician cannot hear a fetal heartbeat or there is a medical emergency," Rachel Rebouché, a law professor at Temple University and an expert on reproductive rights case law, told The 19th.
Jamila Perritt, an OB/GYN and president of Physicials for Reproductive Health, said the law leaves people seeking abortion care “with very few options."
“Those with resources can try to leave the state to seek care. But this is not an option for most people who do not have the time, money or support needed to travel out of state for care," she said.
“Those with fewer financial resources, Black and Latinx women, young people will bear the brunt of this inequity in access," she continued. “Abortion funds in and outside of Texas have been working around the clock to provide people the support people need to get abortion care."
Are there still pending legal challenges?
Multiple lawsuits, including a challenge by the Center for Reproductive Rights and reproductive health clinics in the state filed last month in Texas' Western District Court, are still pending.
The Supreme Court did not act ahead of the law taking effect Wednesday, but they still could. So far the court has not issued any statements or responded to plaintiffs' requests to block the legislation. The justices do not have a firm deadline to respond, per Bloomberg Law.
The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals' hearing on the Texas law — which was scheduled for Monday — was canceled without explanation.
Rebouché noted over email that the Supreme Court may not be weighing in “because the 5th Circuit allowed the law to go into effect."
Outside of Texas, Perritt said advocates and providers are watching other lawsuits — including the start of oral arguments for the Jackson Women's Health case challenging a 15 week abortion ban in Mississippi, which the Supreme Court is set to take up next term.
So anyone report someone for “aiding and abetting" an abortion?
The law empowers private citizens to sue anyone they believe may have “aided or abetted" someone getting an abortion after six weeks. In a successful lawsuit, the plaintiff would receive at least $10,000 and be reimbursed for legal fees. Defendants would not be entitled to fees.
Family, friends, lawyers, members of the clergy, abortion providers and fundraisers, could all be implicated in potential lawsuits for helping someone in Texas get an abortion, Perritt pointed out.
Texas Right to Life launched a website soon after the law took effect that solicits anonymous reports on how the law may have been violated. The form asks for tipsters to explain how they obtained evidence and what clinic or doctor their evidence relates to.
A Texas Right to Life spokeswoman told NPR on Wednesday that there are currently no imminent lawsuits planned against abortion providers. In Travis County, District Judge Amy Clark Meachum barred the organization from encouraging and filing lawsuits against a Dallas nonprofit, per the Texas Tribune.
This story will be updated.