The Supreme Court has allowed a sweeping Texas abortion law to take effect beginning Wednesday -- a measure that bans most abortions after six weeks of pregnancy and raises questions about the future of the 1973 landmark Roe v. Wade abortion rights decision.
The justices could still act as early as Wednesday.
The American Civil Liberties Union confirmed the news late Tuesday night.
"The Supreme Court has not responded to our emergency request to block Texas’ radical new 6-week abortion ban, SB8. The law now takes effect. Access to almost all abortion has just been cut off for millions of people. The impact will be immediate and devastating," ACLU tweeted. "The law bans abortion as early as six weeks into pregnancy — before many people even know they’re pregnant. The result is that many Texans will be forced to carry pregnancies against their will."
The law, Senate Bill 8, which would be among the strictest in the nation, also authorizes private citizens to sue anyone who helps a woman obtain abortion services and in turn receive at least $10,000 in damages per instance.
Abortion providers on Monday appealed to the court for an immediate emergency injunction blocking the law while legal challenges continue. They claim the Texas restrictions would "immediately and catastrophically" limit abortion access for 85% of patients and force many clinics to close across the state.
Justice Samuel Alito, who oversees matters coming out of federal courts for the 5th Circuit, which includes Texas, gave the state until 5 p.m. Tuesday to lay out its argument for rejecting the request. He could decide on his own or refer the matter to the full court for a vote.
"In less than two days, Texas politicians will have effectively overturned Roe v. Wade," said Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights, which is leading the challenges to Texas' law.
"Patients will have to travel out of state -- in the middle of a pandemic -- to receive constitutionally guaranteed healthcare. And many will not have the means to do so. It's cruel, unconscionable, and unlawful," she said.
ACLU said that by allowing anyone to sue a person they believe is providing abortion or assisting someone in accessing abortion after six weeks, the law "actively encourages private individuals to act as bounty hunters by awarding them at least $10,000 if they are successful."
"This is a racial and economic justice catastrophe. Decades of racism and structural inequality within the health care system have left Black and Latinx people and anyone trying to make ends meet with few alternatives to the cruel reality that Texas politicians have created," the organization added. "This is a full-scale assault on patients, our health care providers, and our support systems. This abortion ban is blatantly unconstitutional. We won’t stop fighting until it’s blocked."
Attorneys for Texas have said the abortion providers lack legal standing to preemptively challenge the law since it has not yet taken effect or had any impact on their patients or services.
Texas is one of 13 states that have passed laws banning abortion in the first trimester of pregnancy; legal challenges have so far prevented all from taking effect.
S.B. 8 runs plainly counter to the Supreme Court's precedent in 1973's Roe v. Wade and affirmed in 1992's Planned Parenthood v. Casey, which established that state restrictions on abortion before a fetus can be viable outside the womb are unconstitutional.
"SCOTUS really might be on the verge of functionally ending legal abortion in TX and hoping no one notices," said ABC News legal analyst and Cardozo law professor Kate Shaw in a post on Twitter.
The court is set to reconsider its precedents later this fall in the biggest abortion rights case to come before the justices in years. The case, which is out of Mississippi, will determine whether all pre-viability abortion bans are unconstitutional or whether a new standard should be applied.
In a statement Tuesday night, Texas advocates and health care providers condemned the abortion ban.
"The hypocrisy of Texas SB8 passing is that it was passed on the premise of saving or valuing life by a majority white men led legislative body that places no value on life," Marsha Jones, the executive director of The Afiya Center, said.
"In the last decade, the Texas legislature has passed many racist, classist, and dangerous abortion restrictions that have made it very difficult to access care," Kamyon Conner, the executive director of the Texas Equal Access Fund, said. "SB 8 essentially bans abortions and codifies intimidation, which will have the most impact on communities that already struggle to access health care."
"It’s a dark day in Texas. Politicians are supposed to put aside partisan differences for the common good, but Abbott has led Texas politicians into an extreme path for his personal gain," Carisa Lopez, the political director of the Texas Freedom Network, said. "We know abortion is healthcare and education is power. It’s more important than ever for us to openly talk about abortion and the need to keep medical decisions between a person and their doctor."
Addressing pregnant women in Texas and beyond, ACLU wrote on Twitter that they have a network of abortion funds and support networks that "will do everything in their power to help you get the information and care you need. Go to http://needabortion.org to find out more, including how to contact an abortion fund."