A Texas law banning most abortions in the state took effect Wednesday, with the Supreme Court silent on an emergency appeal to put the law on hold — the largest-ever blow to the landmark Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion in the United States in 1973.
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and her political allies responded to the Supreme Court’s silence with fury.
Ocasio-Cortez took to social media to declare Roe v. Wade “upended” and blamed Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh.
“Among many other warnings, survivors warned that sexual assault is about abuse of power, & a judge credibly accused of such shouldn’t be trusted [with] the rights of the vulnerable,” she wrote about Kavanaugh. “Now Roe is upended.”
“But we’re not going anywhere,” she promised. “This is a fight for our lives.”
The Texas law, signed by Republican Gov. Greg Abbott in May, prohibits abortions once a heartbeat can be detected in a fetus, usually around six weeks and before most women know they’re pregnant.
President Joe Biden also responded with anger and vowed to fight. Biden said it “blatantly violates the constitutional right established under Roe v. Wade and upheld as precedent for nearly half a century.” And he said the law “outrageously” gives private citizens the power “to bring lawsuits against anyone who they believe has helped another person get an abortion.”
Experts said the new law would rule out 85% of abortions in Texas and force many abortion clinics to close. Planned Parenthood is among the abortion providers that have stopped scheduling abortions beyond six weeks from conception.
What makes the Texas law different than those struck down by the Supreme Court in the past is its clever enforcement scheme. Rather than have officials responsible for enforcing the law, private citizens are authorized to sue abortion providers and anyone involved in facilitating abortions. Among other situations, that would include anyone who drives a woman to a clinic to get an abortion.
Under the law, anyone who successfully sues another person would be entitled to at least $10,000.
Pro-life lawmakers wrote the law to make it difficult to challenge the law in court, in part because it’s hard to know whom to sue.
Late into the night Tuesday before the ban took effect clinics were filled with patients, said Amy Hagstrom Miller, CEO of Whole Women’s Health, which has four abortion clinics in Texas. Miller said doctors worked until midnight performing abortions.
Republican state Rep. Shelby Slawson wrote on Facebook after the ban took effect that it was “with great sadness that I relate to you that late into the night, some in Texas were scrambling to end as many unborn lives as they could before the clock struck midnight.”
Her colleague, Republican state Rep. Jeff Leach wrote on Twitter after the ban went into effect that “LIFE is winning in America … and Texas is leading the way!”
The law is part of a conservative agenda that Texas Republicans muscled through the statehouse this year ahead of the 2022 midterm elections, when Abbott is up for a third term as governor.
Another law taking effect Wednesday allowed the open carry of handguns in public in Texas, and GOP lawmakers on Tuesday approved election changes that will further tighten election security.
Texas has long had some of the nation’s toughest abortion restrictions, including a sweeping law passed in 2013. The Supreme Court eventually struck down that law, but not before more than half of the state’s 40-plus clinics closed.
Lawmakers also are moving forward in an ongoing special session in Texas with proposed new restrictions on medication abortion, a method using pills that accounts for roughly 40% of abortions in the U.S.
Even before the Texas case arrived at the high court the justices had planned to tackle the issue of abortion rights in a major case that will be heard after the court begins hearing arguments again in the fall. That case involves the state of Mississippi, which is asking to be allowed to enforce an abortion ban after 15 weeks of pregnancy.
The Associated Press contributed to this article