Texas 'heartbeat' abortion law: Protesters rally outside US Supreme Court as judges weigh up controversial legislation

·2-min read

On the pavement outside the Supreme Court in Washington DC, a pro-life activist pours water on an "abortion is healthcare" statement written in white chalk, furiously trying to erase it using his shoe.

Another man of similar persuasion carries a plastic doll representing a foetus, shouting "pro-life for all life".

Metres away, pro-choice campaigners huddle in a circle, chanting "abortion is a human right" and holding signs aloft urging politicians to "keep your bans off our bodies".

They're filmed all the time by a bank of 50 news cameras from all corners of the US and around the world.

Scrutiny is intense and passions are inflamed as the highest court in the land begins its most consequential month of hearings in decades on a woman's right to abortion, an issue fundamental to the fabric of American life.

First, they're considering two challenges to Texas's senate bill 8, more commonly known as the "heartbeat" bill because it bans abortion once a foetal heartbeat is detected, around six weeks into pregnancy and often before a woman even realises she is pregnant.

It was cleverly, some might say deviously, devised to be enforced not by law enforcement agencies, but private citizens who are empowered to sue any woman getting an abortion after the six-week limit for a minimum of $10,000.

One of the architects of the bill, Texas state senator Bryan Hughes, is also making an appearance outside the Supreme Court, posing for photographs together with his supporters clasping onto giant red heart helium balloons.

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They listen intently on headphones to three hours of arguments, many of them highly technical, which the justices must now consider, as they decide whether to issue an injunction effectively stopping the law being enforced.

But this is not even the most important abortion hearing over the next month.

On 1 December, they will consider a case from Mississippi, the state which wants to ban abortion from 15 weeks and is making a direct challenge to Roe v Wade - the historic 1973 ruling which legalised abortion nationwide.

This series of hearings is the first real test of what the newly right-leaning Supreme Court thinks about abortion and whether they have the appetite to rewind decades of progress on women's rights.

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