AUSTIN (CBSDFW.COM/AP) – On May 19 Texas Governor Greg Abbott signed Senate Bill 8 into law, banning most abortions in Texas as early as six weeks and allowing almost any American citizen to sue state abortion providers.

The law, that prohibits abortions after the detection of a heartbeat, is being called the nation’s strongest pro-life legislation. It bans abortions before many women even know they are pregnant and includes pregnancies that are the result of rape or incest. There is a limited exception for medical emergencies.

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During a livestream post on Facebook Abbot said the bill, “… ensures that the life of every unborn child who has a heartbeat will be saved from the ravages of abortion.”

What makes the Texas law different is that it prohibits state officials from enforcing the ban. Instead, it creates a ‘civil liability’ and allows anyone — even those outside Texas — to sue an abortion provider or anyone else who may have helped someone get an abortion after the limit, and seek financial damages of up to $10,000 per defendant.

Critics say that provision would allow abortion opponents to flood the courts with lawsuits to harass doctors, patients, nurses, domestic violence counselors, a friend who drove a woman to a clinic, or even a parent who paid for a procedure.

Drucilla Tigner, with the ACLU of Texas, said, “Not only does this ban violate more than half a century of Supreme Court caselaw, it paves the way for anti-choice extremists to use our court system to go after anyone who performs abortions or considers supporting a person that has one. But make no mistake, abortion is both legal in Texas and supported by the majority of Texans. The governor’s swipe of a pen can’t change the Constitution.”

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The law puts Texas in line with more than a dozen other states that ban abortions after the detection of a fetal heartbeat, as early as six weeks. Federal courts have mostly blocked the measures from taking effect.

But with the Supreme Court this week agreeing to take up a Mississippi law that bans abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy, abortion rights activists worry that a ruling favorable to the state could lay the groundwork for allowing even more abortion restrictions, including so-called heartbeat bills.

Texas law currently bans abortion after 20 weeks, with exceptions for a woman with a life-threatening medical condition or if the fetus has a severe abnormality. More than 90% of abortions take place in the first 13 weeks of a woman’s pregnancy, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The new ‘heartbeat’ law takes effect in September.

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(© Copyright 2021 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

CBSDFW.com Staff