The Texas law, which went into effect yesterday when the U.S. Supreme Court declined to block it on a 5-4 vote. (Guess which justices were on each side. Next question: Who is buried in Grant’s Tomb?) The law bans abortions after a fetal heartbeat can be detected, which is after about six weeks of pregnancy. Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision that established a constitutional right to abortion until a fetus was viable (by the medical standards of 50 years ago), would seem to preclude such laws, which other states ( Georgia, Mississippi, Kentucky and Ohio) have passed only to have them held in limbo by the courts The Texas law is the first to be implemented, in part because it approaches the issue from a clever (some might say diabolical) perspective.
The law does not make exceptions for rape or incest, as it should not: if the objective is to protect the human life of the unborn child, how that life came into being is irrelevant. It does permit abortions for health reasons, allowing a termination only if the pregnancy endangers the mother’s life or might lead to “substantial and irreversible impairment of a major bodily function.” The clever part is this: the Texas law doesn’t require state officials to enforce it, meaning that abortions won’t he halted by government action. The Texas law deputizes private citizens to sue anyone who performs an abortion or “aids and abets” a procedure. Any citizen has standing, regardless of connection to the patient, the abortion doctor or the clinic and may sue and recover legal fees along with $10,000 if they win.
This means that the Supreme Court will have to consider not only whether the Texas law in unconstitutional, but whether it can even be challenged in court, what the SCOTUS majority called “complex and novel” procedural questions. Predictably, while the majority opinion was relatively restrained, the dissenters freaked out.