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NPR US News

A Restrictive Abortion Law Is Set To Take Effect In Texas

NOEL KING, HOST:

In just about 48 hours in Texas, the vast majority of abortions will become illegal. Yesterday, a federal appeals court denied emergency motions filed by abortion providers who were trying to block this law after canceling a hearing that was planned for today.

NPR's Sarah McCammon has been following this story. Good morning, Sarah.

SARAH MCCAMMON, BYLINE: Morning, Noel.

KING: What does the Texas law prohibit?

MCCAMMON: So it bans abortion as soon as cardiac activity is detectable. That's around six weeks, before a lot of people know that they're pregnant. Lots of other states have tried to do this, you may remember, but those laws have been challenged by abortion rights groups and blocked by federal courts again and again.

KING: And yet this one is going through. How is this law different?

MCCAMMON: Well, groups who oppose abortion rights have pushed for this Texas law, hoping that it will be harder for federal courts to knock it down. Instead of requiring public officials to enforce the law, this law allows individuals to bring civil lawsuits against abortion providers or anyone else found to, quote, "aid and abet" illegal abortions. A coalition of reproductive rights groups has asked a federal court to block the law. But as we heard over the weekend, the conservative-leaning U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit sided with the state of Texas and forced a lower court to cancel a hearing on that matter until some other procedural issues can be addressed.

KING: OK. So by your description, this law empowers individuals to enforce an abortion ban. How would that work in practice?

MCCAMMON: Right. Anyone who successfully sues an abortion provider under this law could be awarded at least $10,000. And to prepare for that, Texas Right to Life has set up what they call a whistleblower website where people can submit anonymous tips about anyone they believe to be violating the law. I talked to John Seago with Texas Right to Life. He says the law targets providers, not patients.

JOHN SEAGO: These lawsuits are not against the women. The lawsuits would be against the individuals making money off of the abortion, the abortion industry itself. So this is not spy on your neighbor and see if they're having an abortion.

MCCAMMON: Now, in their federal lawsuit challenging this, the coalition of abortion providers and reproductive rights groups says it, quote, "places a bounty on people who provide or aid abortions, inviting random strangers to sue them."

KING: Yeah, it certainly would be significant for providers.

MCCAMMON: Right. I talked to Dr. Bhavik Kumar, a family medicine doctor who works for Planned Parenthood in Houston, and he says it's creating a lot of uncertainty for patients and providers. But Kumar insists he will comply with the law.

BHAVIK KUMAR: I haven't heard of anybody who plans on not complying with Senate Bill 8 once it goes into effect. And so their website is really meaningless. They have a bounty hunt for something that's not going to happen.

MCCAMMON: He says the ban, though, would mean a lot of conversations with patients about where they can get an abortion outside of Texas.

KING: What happens next? Does this continue to move through the courts?

MCCAMMON: Lots of legal maneuvering underway right now - and just to put this all in perspective, Noel, the vast majority, the clear majority of abortions in Texas take place after six weeks. So this law would have a major impact if it goes into effect this week.

KING: NPR's Sarah McCammon. Thank you, Sarah.

MCCAMMON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.