US Supreme Court justices on Monday appeared to lean toward allowing a challenge brought by abortion providers to a Republican-backed law that imposes a near-total ban on the procedure in Texas and lets private citizens enforce it.
Over nearly three hours of oral arguments, the justices heard separate challenges by President Joe Biden's administration and abortion providers to the Texas law.
The law is by far the strictest abortion ban in effect in the US, outlawing the procedure at about six weeks, far earlier in pregnancy than the Supreme Court has ever allowed.
The justices are weighing whether abortion providers and the Justice Department can stop the law despite an unusual provision Texas included to try to insulate the measure from judicial review.
Abortion rights in the United States are hanging in the balance as the nine justices tackle the dispute over the law.
The justices will also hear arguments on December 1 over the legality of a Mississippi measure prohibiting the procedure after 15 weeks of pregnancy.
The Supreme Court let the Texas law take effect on September 1 on a 5-4 vote, even while acknowledging “serious questions” about its constitutionality.
The law bans abortion at a point in time when many women do not yet realise they are pregnant.
Dozens of demonstrators on both sides of the issue gathered outside the Supreme Court before the arguments began.
Opponents of the Texas law held signs reading “Bans off our bodies” and “Keep our clinics” while supporters held signs that said, “Let their hearts beat.”
The Texas measure takes enforcement out of the hands of state officials, instead enabling private citizens to sue anyone who performs or assists a woman in getting an abortion after cardiac activity is detected in the embryo.
But there were signs during oral arguments that some conservative justices were reconsidering their positions.
Some justices signalled that existing Supreme Court precedent could accommodate the lawsuit brought by abortion providers challenging the law even with the measure's unusual private-citizen enforcement structure.
Abortion opponents hope the Supreme Court, with its 6-3 conservative majority, will roll back abortion rights or even overturn its 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that recognised a woman's constitutional right to terminate a pregnancy and legalised the procedure nationwide.
Agencies contributed to this report