More than a dozen mainly Southern states have passed "heartbeat laws" similar to Texas', but most have been blocked by the courts. The U.S. Supreme Court declined to block the Texas law in part because those who crafted it left enforcement not up to the state, but rather individuals, who can file lawsuits for a minimum of $10,000 against those they suspect of obtaining or "aiding and abetting" those seeking abortions within Texas.
The Justice Department sued to block the Texas law, which makes no exceptions for incest or rape, requesting that a federal judge issue a temporary restraining order.
"Many patients have already been forced to travel hundreds and sometimes thousands of miles to obtain an abortion out of state," the Justice Department said in its request, including "a minor who was raped by a family member and had to travel eight hours from Galveston to Oklahoma in order to obtain an abortion."
But on Thursday, the federal judge in Austin refused to rule ahead of an Oct. 1 hearing on the restraining order.
Neesha Davé, acting executive director of the Austin-based Lilith Fund, which helps women pay for abortions, said the restraining order would be "a really helpful tool to protect our programs from being hurt by these harassing lawsuits by antiabortion vigilantes. But it's not the big relief people need so they can access abortion in their home state."
Meagan looked tired, wearing a Bob Marley T-shirt, sweatpants and sandals, her light brown hair loose around her shoulders. She said she worried that the Texas clinics she consulted might get her in trouble under the new law. When she asked the staff at one of the clinics where she could get an abortion out of state, she said they told her they couldn't help. When they called to find out where she was going, she stopped answering.
"I cut off all contact with those clinics when they continued to ask what my plans were," Meagan said, her voice raspy from morning sickness. "Is your name going to be reported? You don't know. It's still a new law."
She had a surgical abortion years ago in Dallas that was painful, and this time wanted abortion medication. But that's only available up to 10 weeks.
She found out clinics in Oklahoma were booked until mid-October and clinics in Louisiana had closed after losing power due to Hurricane Ida. Meagan said she worried Arkansas clinics might be dangerous given the political climate. So she traveled to Kansas for the first time in her life, driving nine hours overnight and staying at a hotel.
Clinic staffer Melissa Tovar was used to stress: The fenced Wichita clinic has drawn crowds and even closed for several years after its director, Dr. George Tiller, was fatally shot by an anti-abortion extremist.