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Gov. Greg Abbott signs into law one of nation’s strictest abortion measures, banning procedure as early as six weeks into a pregnancy
Gov. Greg Abbott signed into a law Wednesday a measure that would prohibit in Texas abortions as early as six weeks — before some women know they are pregnant — and open the door for almost any private citizen to sue abortion providers and others.
The signing of the bill opens a new frontier in the battle over abortion restrictions as first-of-its-kind legal provisions — intended to make the law harder to block — are poised to be tested in the courts.
Abortion rights advocates have promised to challenge the new law, which they consider one of the most extreme across the country and the strictest in Texas since the landmark Roe v. Wade decision.
The law takes effect in September.
The Legislature "worked together on a bipartisan basis to pass a bill that I'm about to sign that ensures that the life of every unborn child who has a heartbeat will be saved from the ravages of abortion," Abbott said, in a livestream posted on Facebook.
The governor's signature comes just after the U.S. Supreme Court said it would hear a case concerning a Mississippi law that would ban most abortions after 15 weeks, and which could lead to new limits on abortion rights. It is the first major abortion case heard before the court's newly expanded conservative majority, and could have far-reaching effects for Texas, where a pending bill would outlaw nearly all abortions if the Supreme Court overruled Roe v. Wade.
Senate Bill 8 was a top priority for Republican lawmakers, nearly all of whom signed on as an author or sponsor of the measure.
The bill bans abortions after a fetal heartbeat has been detected. It includes cases where the woman was impregnated as a result of rape or incest. There is an exception for medical emergencies.
Similar "heartbeat" bills have been passed by other states and held up by the courts, but Texas' version has a twist.
Instead of having the government enforce the law, the bill turns the reins over to private citizens — who are newly empowered to sue abortion providers or anyone who helps someone get an abortion after a fetal heartbeat has been detected. The person would not have to be connected to someone who had an abortion or to a provider to sue.
Proponents of the new law hope to get around the legal challenges that have tied up abortion restrictions in the courts for years. While abortion providers typically sue the state to stop a restrictive abortion law from taking effect, there's no state official enforcing Senate Bill 8 — so there's no one to sue, the bill's proponents say.
"It's a very unique law and it's a very clever law," said Josh Blackman, a constitutional law professor at South Texas College of Law Houston. "Planned Parenthood can't go to court and sue Attorney General [Ken] Paxton like they usually would because he has no role in enforcing the statute. They have to basically sit and wait to be sued."
Legal experts have been divided on the strategy, and abortion rights advocates have said they plan to fight regardless.
Elisabeth Smith, chief counsel at the Center for Reproductive Rights, which has represented abortion providers who have sued Texas, said it and other abortion rights organizations are "not going to let this six-week ban go unchallenged."
Drucilla Tigner, policy and advocacy strategist of the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas, said the "governor's swipe of a pen can't change the Constitution."
While the law is most extreme abortion ban in the country, "abortion is both legal in Texas and supported by the majority of Texans," Tigner said.
Abortion rights advocates and lawyers say the new law would allow for a cascade of lawsuits against abortion providers, that would sap their time and money even if they ultimately won in court.
Family members, abortion funds, rape crisis counselors and other medical professionals could be open to lawsuits, under the broad language in the bill, according to legal experts and physicians who opposed the measure. People who sued would be awarded at least $10,000, as well as costs for attorney's fees, if they won.
"Every citizen is now a private attorney general," Blackman said. "You can have random people who are against abortion start suing tomorrow."
John Seago, with Texas Right to Life, an anti-abortion organization that supported the bill, said
he doubted there would be an "overwhelming number of cases on day one."
Lawsuits might be filed by anti-abortion activists who learned through talking to the woman that she got an abortion after six weeks.
"There's going to be a lot of different [fact] patterns that could lead to the case," he said. But the bill isn't "throwing out the typical way that the judicial system works — there's still going to be a judge, there's still going to be depositions, there's going to be a high bar" before fees are awarded.
The ultimate goal, he said, is to incentivize abortion providers to comply with the law instead of fighting it in court.
They can "easily avoid all of that," Seago said. "Have a public statement. Put it on their website that they're not scheduling appointments after six weeks."
The bill does not allow rapists to sue but abortion rights advocates say the wording offers flimsy protection as most rapes and sexual assaults aren't reported and don't result in a conviction.
Most abortions in Texas were already prohibited after about 20 weeks. Pill-induced abortions were barred at 10 weeks. The abortion provider must perform a sonogram on the woman 24 hours before the abortion and give them information about medical risks, abortion alternatives and assistance available to those who follow through with their pregnancy.
More than 56,600 abortions were performed on Texas residents in 2019, according to state statistics, most of them in the first trimester.
Proponents of the law celebrated its signing.
"The Legislature and Governor prioritized this historic legislation, and with his signature, approximately 50,000 precious human lives will be saved in Texas next year alone!" said Chelsey Youman, with Human Coalition Action, an anti-abortion organization.
Austin's already warm climate is getting warmer, according to new data released by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
NOAA calculates climate normals, describing the average weather over the past 30 years, based on measurements gathered at more than 15,000 observation stations; they're updated each decade.
In Austin, the average temperature at Camp Mabry on West 35th Street was 70.7 degrees between 2011 and 2020, up 0.9 degrees from the previous decade and 2.1 degrees from 1981-90. The steepest increase was reported among the average daily maximum, which was 81.5 degrees between 2011 and 2020, up 1.2 degrees from the previous decade and 2.7 degrees from 1981-90.
"Texas is definitely one of the areas that has more warming than some areas in the country," NOAA Science Project Manager Michael Palecki said. "That's probably directly related to greenhouse gas-induced climate change."
Nationally, average temperatures are clearly rising. Between 1981 and 2010, the average temperature in the contiguous U.S. was 52.8 degrees. The new normal, calculated between 1991 and 2020, is 53.3 degrees—the warmest on record.
Although the new climate normals were anticipated, their impact is still being felt in Austin and around Texas. Environment Texas Executive Director Luke Metzger cited worsening heat, flooding, wildfires, species loss and toxic algae blooms.
Rising temperatures have drastically increased the number of days over 100 degrees compared to the 20th century, shifting Austin's climate closer to that of Arizona than what it has been historically and affecting residents' quality of life. "If it's just so hot, it's miserable," Metzger said, noting the particular impact on people who work outside, such as those in the construction and agricultural industries, and vulnerable populations like the elderly.
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A few months before Tesla's massive Giga Texas factory is scheduled to be complete, the company appears to be constructing another industrial building on its property nearby.
A plan filed with the city on April 30 appears to show another large building plan on the company's 2,500-acre lot. The project is located near the Gigafactory on Harold Road and appears to be part of Tesla's "Bobcat Project."
According to Austin Business Journal, the project could sit on up to 150 acres of extra space that Tesla mysteriously purchased for the Gigafactory, although a development limit by the Austin extraterritorial jurisdiction means only 97 acres could be developed for the project.
A May 5 drone video posted by Terafactory on Youtube shows what looks like preparation for the foundation on another structure in the "Bobcat Project" area.
Meanwhile, the $1.1-billion Gigafactory is scheduled to be completed this month.
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Elon Musk and girlfriend Grimes may have brought a high-profile love for cryptocurrency to Austin, but the city is now also host to one of the largest blockchain technology companies in North America.
Blockcap, a company dedicated to bringing Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies out of the shadows and mining for cryptocurrency, is moving its headquarters from Las Vegas to Austin. The company was welcomed by the nation's newest tech hub and was even applauded by former Texas governor Rick Perry for making the move.
Blockcap founder and executive chairman Darin Feinstein said that Austin is the next big thig when it comes to cryptocurrency.
"Austin is our home base from which we will pursue our mission and bring this great city closer to the center of the United States' blockchain technology ecosystem," Feinstein said. "We also see the city as an ideal location from which to continue expanding our operations as we grow at both national and international levels."
With the all-digital Bitcoin, record-keeping, creating currency and using bitcoin can all be done by the same entity.
Blockchain technology, which Blockcap utilizes, serves as the closest thing to a bank for decentralized Bitcoin currency. By mining for bitcoin, Bitcoin users actually create currency as they use software, or "miners," to solve complex math problems. Bitcoin miners then record these transactions and make a safer currency network.
On Monday, the company announced it had added 8,000 miners to its repertoire and said it would soon surpass 50,000 miners in its supply.
Blockcap already accounts for 0.7% of all Bitcoin transactions, and with the 50,000 miners fully operational in the next year, it will only continue to grow its share.
Next up, Ethereum. Blockcap's announcement Monday came with a new up-and-coming cryptocurrency. Ethereum, which is the world's second-largest digital currency by market capitalization, has been used as a currency for Grimes' NFT artwork. It's considered the "next big thing" in cryptocurrency, especially when it comes to selling in the skyrocketing digital art and collectibles market, and Blockcap is ready to bring it into its arsenal.
The company announced that it would purchase Ethereum miners as another facet of its aggressive growth plan and it estimates it will account for 0.21% of the entire Ethereum network when its miners are fully operational.
Feinstein said the company is motivated to grow because it hopes to make the U.S. the forefront of mainstream Bitcoin use.
"Blockcap's growth strategy is focused on bringing various peer-to-peer digital assets directly to the people who will utilize them to improve their lives," Feinstein said. "We strive to contribute to the critical infrastructure necessary for mass adoption of these digital asset technologies so people can participate more fully in the global financial system. Currently, there are over 1.7 billion people around the world with no access to banking, and the rise of these digital asset networks will make financial products more inclusive and available to every individual."
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