Abortion providers ask US top court to review Texas abortion ban

Petition to US Supreme Court argues Texas law banning abortions after six weeks of pregnancy is causing ‘great harm’.

The Texas law that took effect this month has been condemned by women's rights advocates and civil liberty groups who say it will disproportionately harm women of colour and low-income communities [File: Jonathan Ernst/Reuters]

Abortion providers in Texas have asked the United States Supreme Court to urgently intervene in their case challenging a law that imposed a ban on abortions after six weeks of pregnancy – effectively outlawing the procedure in the state.

In a legal filing on Thursday, the providers asked the Supreme Court justices to hear their case before lower courts have finished ruling on the dispute because of the “great harm the ban is causing”.

The Texas law, which drew widespread condemnation and outrage from women’s rights advocates across the US, gives private citizens the power to enforce it by enabling them to sue anyone who assists a woman in getting an abortion past the six-week cutoff.

That feature has helped shield the law from being immediately blocked as it made it more difficult to sue the government directly.

The providers said in their filing that the ban has eliminated the vast majority of abortions in the state given the threat of “ruinous liability”, while also causing Texans to have to travel hundreds of kilometres to other states, causing backlogs there. “Texans are in crisis,” they said in the filing.

In their petition to the Supreme Court, the abortion providers, including Whole Woman’s Health and other advocacy groups, said that justices should decide if the state can “insulate” its law from federal court review by delegating its enforcement to the general public.

The Supreme Court has a 6-3 conservative majority and has refused to block the law.

Experts say Americans are increasingly “pro-choice” – support a woman’s right to decide whether or not to have an abortion.

A recent opinion poll conducted by Monmouth University showed six in 10 Americans believe abortion should be legal. The same survey found that 54 percent of Americans disagree with the Supreme Court ruling not to intervene on the Texas law, while 39 percent agree.

President Joe Biden’s administration sued Texas on September 9, fearing the right to abortion established by the 1973 Supreme Court decision Roe v Wade may be at risk.

The Texas law prohibits abortion after a “fetal heartbeat” is detected, before many women realise they are pregnant.

Medical experts say the cardiac activity is not an actual heartbeat but rather an initial flutter of electric activity within cells in an embryo. They say the heart does not begin to form until the fetus is at least nine weeks old, and they have decried efforts to promote abortion bans by relying on medical inaccuracies.

The Supreme Court declined to step in to stop the Texas law earlier this month by a 5-4 vote [Jose Luis Magana/AP Photo]

On Thursday, former US Vice President Mike Pence said that he is hopeful the new conservative majority on the Supreme Court created during his and President Donald Trump’s administration would soon overturn abortion rights in the country.

“We see a crisis that brings us here today, a crisis that strikes at the very heart of civilisation itself. The erosion of the nuclear family marked by declining marriage rates, rising divorce, widespread abortion and plummeting birth rates,” Pence said during a forum in Budapest, Hungary.

On Wednesday, Republican Representative Webster Barnaby filed an abortion bill in the state of Florida that is similar to the one passed in Texas.

Besides banning abortions after cardiac activity is detected, the bill would change all references to “fetus” in the state’s abortion laws to “unborn child”.

The bill also calls for $10,000 civil awards per abortion for the doctor who performs the procedure or any defendants that “aided or abetted” the procedure. People would have six years to file a lawsuit after a supposed illegal abortion is performed.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies