Explainer: What is the Texas abortion ban and why does it matter?

Updated 3:08 PM ET, Fri September 3, 2021

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(CNN)On January 22, 1973, the US Supreme Court made the landmark decision that guaranteed women their right to terminate a pregnancy before viability, usually around the 24-week mark. The case that set the precedent, Roe v. Wade, based on a challenge to Texas laws, enshrined into law the rights of all women to an abortion.

Forty-eight years later, there is now one state where that law no longer stands: Texas.
How did a nation that sees itself as a champion of women's rights get here and where does it go next?

What's happened in Texas?

On Wednesday September 1, 2021, a law in the southern US state banning abortion providers from carrying out terminations after fetal cardiac activity is detected -- usually around six weeks into a pregnancy -- came into force after the Supreme Court declined to intervene.
The law makes no exceptions for rape or incest, forcing women to carry a pregnancy to term even under traumatic circumstances. The only exception that allows for an abortion to be obtained after six weeks is a "if a physician believes that a medical emergency exists," according to the language of the bill.
What's more, the law will not be enforced by the state government -- but rather policed by citizens, who can sue abortion providers for alleged violations. The plaintiff will receive $10,000 from the accused if their case is successful.
First introduced to the Texas House of Representatives and Senate in March, the 'Heartbeat Act' -- a name that some medical professionals have said is intentionally misleading -- was signed into law by Republican Governor Greg Abbott in May.
However, it only came into force after the Supreme Court declined to rule on an emergency request to block the bill, filed by abortion providers. On Wednesday, the court's conservative majority issued a formal denial of the request, saying the law could not be blocked at this stage due to "complex" and "novel" issues -- though it acknowledged that the clinics had raised "serious questions regarding the constitutionality of the Texas law."

Why is it significant?

What's happened in the Lone Star State is not the first attempt by conservative policymakers to shrink the time available for abortion. In fact, at least 12 other states have passed six-week bans, but these were blocked from taking effect. Texas now has some of the most restrictive abortion laws in the US -- and in the world
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