The Supreme Court on Monday is hearing challenges to a controversial Texas law that bans most abortions in the state after six weeks of pregnancy and authorizes private citizens to enforce it.
The law, known as the Texas Heartbeat Act, allows people to bring civil action against anybody who performs an abortion after the cutoff, or aids or abets the procedure, and awards at least $10,000 for bringing successful lawsuits.
The challenges will target that novel mechanism, which takes enforcement out of the hands of state government, to determine whether the Justice Department or abortion providers can mount federal court challenges to the law.
The law, signed by Gov. Greg Abbott in May, has been in effect since Sept. 1.
It does not allow for exceptions for rape or incest but does for medical emergencies.
The effects of the law have been immediate, as abortions are down 50 percent in Texas in September compared to a year ago, Texas Public Radio reported.
The high court in September voted 5-4 not to block the law and then decided to take up the case on Oct. 22, bypassing lower courts also considering challenges.
The ruling could have widespread implications for restricting abortions in the country if the justices decide to keep federal courts out of the process because of its unique enforcement design, allowing it to be replicated by other Republican-run state legislatures.
Abortion opponents hope the court’s 6-3 conservative majority will either restrict abortion access or overturn the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling that established a right to abortion nationwide.
The Supreme Court on Dec. 1 will also hear arguments against a Mississippi law that bans the procedure after 15 weeks of pregnancy.
The Mississippi law has been blocked by lower courts.
Outside the Supreme Court on Monday, activists held signs saying “Let their hearts beat” and played Christian music.
Abortion rights activists held signs proclaiming, “Hands off our bodies” and “Abortion is essential.”
Meanwhile, the justices are expected to hear arguments Wednesday against New York’s gun permit law that will determine who has the right to carry a firearm in public for self-defense.
Under the law, enacted in 1913, a person applying for a permit to carry a concealed weapon in public for self-defense must demonstrate “proper cause” — or actual need to be armed.
Gun licenses can be unrestricted, allowing someone to carry a gun anywhere not prohibited by law, or restricted, allowing the person to carry a weapon in specific circumstances, like for hunting or target shooting, or traveling for work.
Those challenging the law, including the New York State Rifle & Pistol Association, argue the law hinders the ability of law-abiding citizens to get a license to carry a gun for self-protection.
They say the Second Amendment backs the right of a person to carry a gun outside the home.
The state says the law’s restrictions are in place for public safety and overturning it would lead to more weapons on city streets and in bars, churches, schools and subways.
With Post wires