Federal judge holds hearing about new Texas abortion law

A federal judge is set to hear arguments to a challenge against the restrictive Texas abortion law

U.S. District Judge Robert Pitman will be making the decision on the lawsuit which was brought forward by the Biden administration.

Senate Bill 8, also known as the "Heartbeat Law", bans abortions in Texas once a fetal heartbeat can be detected. The law doesn't list an exact gestational age but doctors say this is around the six-week mark which is a time before many women know they're pregnant.

Abortion remains a constitutional right under Supreme Court precedent. But the structure of SB 8 allows it to skirt precedent by offloading the enforcement of the statute from government and law officials to private citizens.

By empowering anyone in the nation to file lawsuits against a provider or person who aids someone in getting an abortion and barring state enforcement, SB 8 makes it difficult to name the right defendants in the lawsuits that would block enforcement of the law.

The law has also proved controversial due to it not exempting victims of rape or incest

When did the abortion law go into effect in Texas?

The law went into effect on September 1 after the U.S. Supreme Court voted 5-4 to deny an emergency appeal from abortion providers and others that sought to block it.

Abortion providers say the law has forced women to drive hundreds of miles to other states to get abortion care and that those states are struggling to keep up with a surge of patients. They say Texas clinics are now in danger of closing and some women are now being forced to carry pregnancies to term.

"Abortion care has almost completely stopped in our state," Dr. Ghazaleh Moayedi, a Texas abortion provider, told the U.S. House Oversight and Reform Committee during a hearing over abortion access Thursday.

The Biden administration's lawsuit could be the first legal blow to the law as it's held up against legal challenges until this point. 

The Justice Department is pushing for Judge Pitman to act swiftly but there's no timeline on when Pitman will issue a ruling.

It is also unclear how quickly any of Texas’ nearly two dozen abortion clinics would move to resume normal operations if the law is set aside. Texas officials would likely seek a swift reversal from the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which previously allowed the restrictions to take effect.

The Texas law is just one that is setting up the biggest test of abortion rights in the U.S. in decades and it is part of a broader push by Republicans nationwide to impose new restrictions on abortion.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Texas abortion law hearing: Here's what you need to know about the DOJ's argument against SB8
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Why "heartbeat bill" is a misleading name for Texas’ near-total abortion ban
Justice Department files lawsuit against Texas over abortion law
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