AUSTIN, Texas – The U.S. Supreme Court is set to hear oral arguments in two cases related to a controversial, recently enacted Texas abortion law -- a pair of cases legal experts say could reshape abortion rights nationwide.

The law, known as the “heartbeat bill” or Senate Bill 8, bans abortions after cardiac activity is detected, usually around six weeks of pregnancy, before many women know they are pregnant. It also enables private citizens to sue anyone who performs an abortion or helps anyone receive one. The law — signed by Gov. Greg Abbott in May — went into effect Sept. 1.

The Supreme Court did not take action to stop the law from taking affect in September, but has since scheduled a Nov. 1 hearing for oral arguments focused only on whether the law, as presented, is constitutional.

As written, SB 8 allows the state to skirt enforcement by giving the responsibility to individuals who can file lawsuits against anyone who performs or knowingly “aids and abets” an abortion, said Richard Albert, a law professor at The University of Texas at Austin.

The court will consider “whether a state can insulate from federal court review a law that prohibits the exercise of a constitutional right by delegating to the general public the authority to enforce that prohibition through civil actions,” according to court documents.

“What the court is going to really be focusing on is the procedural question: can the state prevent a federal court from reviewing a law that prohibits the exercise of a constitutional right?” Albert said.

Albert added that the court will not discuss the constitutionality of abortions, but rather the constitutionality of SB 8. Separately, the court likely will address Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey — the current federal abortion law that affirmed Roe v. Wade — in December on a case elevated through the Mississippi courts.

That is not to say any decision made by the courts on SB 8 does not have the potential for substantial national impact, Albert said.

He said if the court decides to uphold SB 8, several other states unfriendly to abortions likely will follow suit quickly with similar laws.

“It’s really going to be floodgates, and that's not an exaggeration,” Albert said. “And ultimately that's going to be a problem; a problem for not only women, but also men, and I think more generally constitutional rights in the country.”

The ruling on SB 8 also has the potential to put an added burden on abortion providers in states that are more amenable to abortion rights as many who have the ability to do so will travel to their clinics for an abortion, said Dr. Bhavik Kumar, staff physician at Planned Parenthood Center for Choice in Houston.

He added that SB 8 has not stopped people from needing access to safe abortions and care.

“The only thing [the law is] doing is forcing people to stay pregnant and forcing people to consider unsafe alternatives, and that's simply unfair, unjust, inhumane, unconstitutional and unfortunate,” Kumar said.

The Supreme Court’s decision to expedite the hearing on these cases does have some anti-abortion advocates on the edge of their seats.

Executive Director for Texas Alliance for Life Joe Pojman said he was very surprised when the Supreme Court decided to take the case up so quickly, adding that the expediency of the court “may not be good news for keeping the Texas heartbeat act in effect.”

“The fact that they brought it so quickly may mean they are interested in … [resolving] the issue, and it may not be resolved in a way that I would prefer it to be resolved,” Pojman said.

He added that while he is concerned that there is a possibility SB 8 could lose its legal footing, he is also concerned over federal executive branch overreach in its ability to determine whether state laws are constitutional, a role that belongs to the judicial branch.

This is in reference to the United States v. Texas, the second case the court is hearing on Nov. 1. The court will consider whether the federal government, through the Department of Justice, can bring a lawsuit in federal court preventing a state law from being enforced.

District Judge Robert Pitman ruled SB 8 is unconstitutional in early October blocking it for about 48 hours before a Fifth Circuit judge overruled his decision.

“So much of this is new legal territory,” Pojman said.

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