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Rabu, 01 September 2021

Strictest abortion law in decades imposed - NEWS.com.au

The most restrictive US anti-abortion law in decades has just come into effect, as the nation's Supreme Court remains silent.

The most restrictive anti-abortion law in decades has come into effect in the United States, cutting off access to the procedure for most women in the country's second-largest state.

The new law in Texas, S.B. 8, bans abortion from about six weeks of pregnancy, when a fetal heartbeat may first be detected. That's before many women even realise they are pregnant.

This would seem to violate the precedent set by Roe vs Wade, a landmark Supreme Court decision in 1973 which legalised abortion throughout the US. Since then, the legal threshold for banning abortion has been from the point of "viability", when a fetus can realistically survive outside the womb, which is at about 23 or 24 weeks.

Nevertheless, the Texas law started to operate from midnight on Wednesday morning as the current Supreme Court, composed of a 6-3 conservative majority, declined to act on a petition to block it.

The court could still choose to act on the petition at a later date.

'Abortion bounty hunting'

So, what exactly is in the law?

In practice, it's similar to dozens of other attempts from conservative politicians to rewrite abortion restrictions in recent years: a ban from six weeks of pregnancy, with limited exceptions for cases in which the woman's life is under threat, and no such exceptions for cases of rape or incest.

"Our creator endowed us with the right to life, and yet millions of children lose their right to life every year because of abortion," Texas Governor Greg Abbott said when he signed the bill.

On the day a woman misses her period she is already considered four weeks pregnant. That leaves just another fortnight in which abortion remains legal in Texas.

The key distinguishing factor here is how the law will be enforced.

Most anti-abortion laws in the US have the government enforcing their bans. Abortion providers and advocacy groups then know exactly who to sue to get the law overturned. Usually it's a specific government official.

S.B 8 relies on an unusual framework which makes private citizens, not the government, the enforcers. It allows any private citizen, even someone from out of state, to sue any organisation or individual who  "aids or abets" a woman getting an abortion after six weeks.

Here is the relevant section of the law.

"Any person, other than an officer or employee of a state or local governmental entity in this state, may bring a civil action against any person who: one, performs or induces an abortion in violation of this subchapter; or two, knowingly engages in conduct that aids or abets the performance or inducement of an abortion, including paying for or reimbursing the costs of an abortion through insurance or otherwise, regardless of whether the person knew or should have known that the abortion would be performed or induced in violation of this subchapter," it reads.

If the plaintiff succeeds in civil court, they receive damages of at least $US10,000 ($13,600) for "each abortion" the defendant performed or helped facilitate. The defendant also has to pay the plaintiff's legal fees.

So to summarise, virtually anyone in the United States can sue anyone they believe is helping women get abortions after the six-week threshold in Texas, and if they win in court they get at least $US10,000.

Today legal journalist Imani Gandy described this, in rather colourful terms, as "abortion bounty hunting". The American Civil Liberties Union echoed her.

"It actively encourages private individuals to act as bounty hunters by awarding them at least $10,000 if they are successful," the organisation said.

And the American Medical Association called the law "egregious", saying it "interferes with the patient-doctor relationship" by imposing "bounties" on healthcare workers for "simply delivering care".

Abortion providers in Texas have estimated the ban will prevent 85 per cent of the women they would normally see from getting an abortion. Some of those women may be able to bear the burden of travelling to another state, paying for travel and accommodation and taking time off work, but those with lower incomes are expected to struggle.

"Patients will have to travel out of state, in the middle of a pandemic, to receive constitutionally guaranteed healthcare," said Nancy Northup, President of the Centre for Reproductive Rights.

"Many will not have the means to do so. It's cruel, unconscionable and unlawful."

Anti-abortion activists celebrate

In a statement, President Joe Biden said his administration would "protect and defend" the right to abortion established by Roe vs Wade, though as this is a state law, there is little the White House can do.

"This extreme Texas law blatantly violates the constitutional right established under Roe vs Wade and upheld as precedent for nearly half a century," Mr Biden said.

"The law will significantly impair women's access to the healthcare they need, particularly for communities of colour and individuals with low incomes.

"And outrageously, it deputises private citizens to bring lawsuits against anyone who they believe has helped another person get an abortion, which might even include family members, healthcare workers, front desk staff at a healthcare clinic, or strangers with no connection to the individual."

Vice President Kamala Harris described the law as an "all-out assault on reproductive health".

"It effectively bans abortion for the nearly seven million Texans of reproductive age," said Ms Harris.

"Patients in Texas will now be forced to travel out of state or carry their pregnancy to term against their will."

Meanwhile, anti-abortion activists were celebrating.

"This law reflects the scientific reality that unborn children are human beings, with beating hearts, by six weeks," said the pro-life organisation the Susan B. Anthony List.

"This is an historic moment in the fight to protect women and children from abortion. We're excited to see the law save lives, starting today."

Mr Abbott, having signed the legislation into law earlier this year, said "no freedom is more precious than life itself".

"Starting today, every unborn child with a heartbeat will be protected from the ravages of abortion," the Governor said.

"Texas will always defend the right to life."

You might recall a speech by a young Texan woman named Paxton Smith. Shortly after Mr Abbott signed the anti-abortion bill, Ms Smith ditched the remarks she'd prepared for her graduation ceremony and instead ripped into the law, accusing politicians of waging "a war on my body".

"I am terrified that if my contraceptives fail, I'm terrified that if I am raped, then my hopes and aspirations and dreams and efforts for my future will no longer matter," she said at the time. Her speech went viral.

Today she spoke to CNN.

"It's very upsetting to see, and it is so heartwrenching to know that so many people in Texas have had a fundamental human right taken from them today," said Ms Smith, who is now a university student.

"It's very surreal. I'm very upset that this law has been able to go into effect, and I know a lot of people share that sentiment. If we do face ourselves with an unplanned decision, then that life-changing decision is no longer up to us.

"It's kind of unbelievable that in a state in the US, a place that values freedom and liberty from person to person, the freedom of deciding what happens with your body and your life has been taken away from you."

Asked whether the new law might lead her to consider moving away from Texas, she replied "definitely".

"I worry about the state of my rights in a state where the value of my voice, the value of being able to decide what happens with my life if I get pregnant, is not taken into account," she said.

Is Roe vs Wade under threat?

In Roe vs Wadethe Supreme Court ruled that governments across the US could ban abortion, but only from the point of viability onwards.

"With respect to the state's important and legitimate interest in potential life, the 'compelling' point is at viability," the court said.

"State regulation protective of fetal life after viability thus has both logical and biological justifications. If the state is interested in protecting fetal life after viability, it may go so far as to proscribe abortion during that period, except when it is necessary to preserve the life or health of the mother."

In another landmark case, 1992's Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania vs Casey, the Supreme Court again found "the line should be drawn at viability".

"A state may not prohibit any woman from making the ultimate decision to terminate her pregnancy before viability," it said.

This has been the legal framework for abortion in the United States since 1973.

The broader issue isn't that simple, of course. Opponents of abortion have done plenty to restrict women's access to it, despite being unable to ban it outright.

Some states have imposed requirements that women's parents be involved in the decision, for example. Some require a woman to wait for a certain amount of time after first visiting a clinic before she can actually have the abortion. These measures are fine, under the current interpretation of the US Constitution, as long as they do not place an "undue burden" on women.

But the Texas is law is one of several recently passed by conservative-dominated states that seek to move the threshold back from viability to a point earlier in a woman's pregnancy.

The current Supreme Court has already agreed to hear Dobbs vs Jackson Women's Health Organisation. The case concerns a law passed by Mississippi in 2018, the Gestational Age Act, which banned abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy and was subsequently struck down by the lower courts for violating the US Constitution.

The nine Supreme Court justices are limiting their deliberations to a single question: whether "all pre-viability prohibitions on elective abortions are unconstitutional". If it answers yes, that will reaffirm the precedent set by Roe and Casey.

If the court answers no, however, the decision could enable governments across the country to impose bans on abortion much earlier in a woman's pregnancy.

A ruling in the Mississippi case is not expected until next year.

Read related topics:Joe Biden

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2021-09-01 21:56:31Z
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