A law that bans abortions after six weeks of pregnancy has come into effect in Texas after the Supreme Court failed to act on an emergency petition to put the law on hold. The Texas law, signed by Republican Gov. Greg Abbott in May, prohibits abortions once a fetal heartbeat can be detected, unless a “medical emergency exists,” in the most severe restriction on abortion rights in the United States since the high court’s landmark Roe v. Wade decision legalised abortion in 1973.

ALSO READ: Fully vaccinated NFL players also required to get COVID-19 tests weekly

Groups such as Planned Parenthood and the American Civil Liberties Union said the law would rule out 85% of abortions in Texas, force many clinics to close. Millions of women will lose access to abortion as the case proceeds, Planned Parenthood has warned.

The law deputizes citizens to file civil suits against abortion providers or anyone who helps facilitate the pregnancy after six weeks, including a person who drives a pregnant person to the clinic. Violators would have to pay $10,000 to the person who successfully brings such a suit. Rights advocates warn the incentive will encourage harassment, intimidation and vigilantism.

At least 12 other states have enacted bans on abortion early in pregnancy, but all have been blocked from going into effect.

The citizen enforcement scheme has made it difficult to challenge the law in court. There are apprehensions that the Supreme Court's decision to let the Texas law come into effect will encourage similar bills in other states.

ALSO READ: US revises travel alert amid rising COVID cases; Canada, Switzerland on the list

Texas has imposed some of America's toughest abortion restrictions, including a sweeping law passed in 2013 that caused more than half of the state’s 40-plus abortion clinics to close before the Supreme Court stepped in and scrapped the law.

Lawmakers also are moving forward in an ongoing special session in Texas with proposed new restrictions on medication abortion, a method using pills that accounts for roughly 40% of abortions in the US.

(With Inputs from Associated Press)