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?
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
The news has sent shockwaves around the world because it invalidates Roe v. Wade and is said to take the power away from pregnant people and give it to vigilante anti-abortion activists
who, determined to catch any violations of the law, have set up websites encouraging tipoffs about alleged violations.
The human cost is likely to be made even greater by the incredibly tight timeframe which has been imposed.
At just six weeks, many women don't even realize they're pregnant. Dating not from conception but the beginning of the menstrual cycle, that's only enough time to have missed one period. As such, the ban is just about as close as anti-abortion activists can get to a total prohibition of abortion.
It is hard to know exactly how many people will be affected. In 2020, according to Texas Health and Human Services, nearly 54,000 abortions
were performed in the state. According to opponents of the law, up until the ban, 85 percent of abortions in Texas
took place after six weeks.
Speaking of those who would be most affected
, journalist Shefali Luthra said people who sidestepped the ban by accessing abortions in other states would be "people who have the means, who are able to travel, who don't need childcare, who aren't necessarily marginalized by income, by race, by immigration status, by all these factors."
Of course, criminalizing abortions doesn't stop people from seeking them. Instead, women who can't travel out of state will be forced to resort to clandestine abortions
, putting their health and safety at risk. According to the World Health Organization
, up to 13.2 percent of annual maternal deaths are due to unsafe abortions -- and Texas might risk adding to that statistic.
How did the United States get here?
Every year since Roe v. Wade in 1973, anti-abortion activists have marched on Washington D.C. on its anniversary to demand an end to abortion rights. They have worked in coordination with conservative lawmakers, providing them with templates
so identical bills can be tabled across numerous states.