AUSTIN, Texas - A bill signed into law by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott restricting abortions after a fetal heartbeat can be detected likely faces numerous legal challenges.
The law, signed in a closed ceremony with no members of the press allowed, bans abortions in Texas before many women even know they are pregnant. It also leaves enforcement to private citizens, who can sue doctors or anyone who helps a woman get an abortion.
There was a celebratory atmosphere in the governor’s office as he signed the bill.
He posed with lawmakers who helped shepherd the legislation through during a private ceremony posted online.
"Millions of children lose their right to life every year because of abortion. In Texas, we work to save those lives," Gov. Abbott said.
Republicans and anti-abortion groups cheered the legislation, while critics said the fight is just beginning and they're now holding out hope for a legal victory.
The new abortion law is set to take effect in September, but federal courts have mostly blocked states from enforcing similar abortion restrictions.
"Substantively, it is an aggressive expansion of state regulation of abortion that is likely to encounter constitutional challenges under the current state of the law," said constitutional attorney David Coale.
He says the law flips the script when it comes to how it is enforced.
"Instead of placing enforcement authority in one person or one state agency -- Roe v. Wade was against Henry Wade, DA of Dallas County -- instead of it being one person enforcing it or the state enforcing it, it is open to the public," Coale said.
That means abortion providers will be on the defensive from lawsuits brought by anti-abortion advocates.
"It allows a private cause of action by private citizens against abortion providers. That greatly expands who can enforce the law, and will make it harder for abortion providers," Coale said.
The Supreme Court just agreed to take up a case out of Mississippi that aims to restrict abortions after 15 weeks. Coale said Texas lawmakers likely wanted to pass their own "heartbeat bill" to be a place holder -- ready to enact immediately -- if that case is successful.
Abortion rights groups signaled they would challenge the new law.
"The goal is clear: to relentlessly attack our reproductive rights until abortion is a right in name only. Passing these bills is not leadership, it is cruelty and extremism," said Alexis McGill Johnson, president of Planned Parenthood Action Fund.
Texas law currently bans abortion after 20 weeks, with exceptions for a woman with a life-threatening medical condition or if the fetus has a severe abnormality. More than 90% of abortions take place in the first 13 weeks of a woman's pregnancy, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Critics say the new law will effectively end abortions.
"SB8 bans abortion at six weeks, before most people even know they’re pregnant, and that’s essentially a complete and total ban on abortion," said Aimee Arrambide, executive director of Avow Texas.
For those protesting abortions, that’s welcome news.
"We thank the governor for signing a bill to help the thankless children. We don’t have anyone to help them," Richard Broussard said.
But medical experts say the flutter, first picked up as a "heartbeat," is misleading.
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists has stated "…what is interpreted as a heartbeat in these bills is actually electrically induced flickering of a portion of the fetal tissue that will become the heart as the embryo develops."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.