Fifth Circuit cancels hearing on Texas 'heartbeat' abortion law days before it takes effect

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A Texas law that would ban abortion after a fetal heartbeat is detected is set to go into effect on Wednesday after the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals canceled a hearing that was supposed to take place Monday.

Abortion providers, including Planned Parenthood, filed emergency motions asking the court to either put the law on hold with a stay or send the case back to district court, but the Fifth Circuit turned them down on Sunday, the Texas Tribune reported.

“If this law is not blocked by September 1, abortion access in Texas will come to an abrupt stop,” Marc Hearron, senior counsel at the Center for Reproductive Rights, said in a statement published by the Tribune.

The law not only prohibits abortion if there is a fetal heartbeat – which can be detectable as early as six weeks into pregnancy, before many women even know they are pregnant – but it also allows anyone other than government employees to sue someone who performs, assists with, or pays for an abortion in violation of the law.

Opponents of the law are concerned that this provision could result in people flooding the courts with lawsuits against doctors, nurses or even friends who drive women to clinics.

The law only allows for exceptions “if a physician believes a medical emergency exists that prevents compliance[.]”

While the law does not criminalize abortions, it does impose stiff civil penalties, calling for statutory damages of at least $10,000 per abortion. It also seeks to limit defenses, stating that those who perform abortions cannot use as a defense that they relied on a court decision that was later overruled.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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