Planned Parenthood supporters hold signs at a 2017 San Antonio rally.
A Texas law banning virtually all abortions after six weeks went into effect Wednesday at midnight after the U.S. Supreme Court turned down a request by women's health groups
to block it.
The measure, championed by Republicans
in the Texas Legislature and signed by Gov. Greg Abbott, is considered the strictest anti-abortion law in the nation.
The law eliminates access to abortion after a fetal heartbeat can be detected — a time before many women are even aware they're pregnant. Although it allows abortions after that period for medical emergencies, it offers no exemptions for rape or incest.
Reproductive rights advocates have blasted the law as unconstitutional since the Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade decision prevents bans on abortion prior to viability. In their petition asking the high court to halt Texas' ban, women's health providers argued that said the
law would rule out 85% of abortions in the state and force clinic closures.
What's more, critics say Texas' statute creates a
"bounty hunting" system by allowing private citizens to enforce the law by suing anyone they think has violated it. Anti-abortion group Texas Right to Life has already set up a website
encouraging people to provide anonymous tips on people who don't adhere to the ban.
“Giving the public the authority to enforce the Texas abortion ban compounds the terrible harm this destructive law will do," Kristin Rowe-Finkenbeiner, CEO of grassroots organizing group MomsRising, said in an emailed statement. "It means anti-choice extremists will be able to use the courts to intimidate health care providers, abusers will be empowered to harass their victims and impede their access to health care, and health centers will be under constant legal attack."
At least a dozen other states have approved so-called "heartbeat" abortion bans, but all all were blocked in the courts before implementation.
Stay on top of San Antonio news and views. Sign up for our Weekly Headlines Newsletter.