The Supreme Court granted a Texas state law to go into effect early Wednesday, allowing private citizens to sue to uphold a ban on the procedure after six weeks of pregnancy. It potentially creates a new template for states to impose strict restrictions on the procedure.
The court ruled 5-4 against abortion providers who asked the court to stop the law from going into effect. According to CBS News, Chief Justice John Roberts joined the three liberal justices in dissent.
“In reaching this conclusion,” the opinion said, “we stress that we do not purport to resolve definitively any jurisdictional or substantive claim in the applicants’ lawsuit. In particular, this order is not based on any conclusion about the constitutionality of Texas’ law, and in no way limits other procedurally proper challenges to the Texas law, including in Texas state courts,” the majority opinion stated, according to the Supreme Court.
Justices Sotomayor, Breyer, and Kagan wrote a dissent in which they claimed that the law is unconstitutional. “Presented with an application to enjoin a flagrantly unconstitutional law engineered to prohibit women from exercising their constitutional rights and evade judicial scrutiny, a majority of justices have opted to bury their heads in the sand,” they wrote.
According to CBS News, the new law is the most stringent abortion ban in the United States. The group of abortion clinics and abortion supporters that requested the Supreme Court’s intervention estimated that 85 percent of women seeking abortions in the state are at least six weeks pregnant.
What does the Texas abortion law prohibit?
As of today, women cannot get an abortion if a fetal heartbeat is detected, which happens as early as five or six weeks into a pregnancy.
This law allows individuals to bring civil lawsuits against abortion providers or anyone else found to “aid or abet” illegal abortions.
Reactions of abortion rights groups
The groups opposing Texas’ law, including Planned Parenthood and the American Civil Liberties Union, had pinned their hopes on the federal district court, where they were seeking a temporary halt to implementation.
Over the weekend, the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals intervened to cancel a planned hearing there, and on Monday the groups filed an emergency petition to the Supreme Court, arguing that the law is unconstitutional.
“This is a de facto overturning of Roe before the Supreme Court has time to hear the Mississippi case,” said Planned Parenthood President Alexis McGill Johnson. “And Texas will now go back to being a pre-Roe state, turning the clock back 50 years.”
Abortion rights groups plan to keep challenging the law on the merits, though they warn that millions of Texas women will lose access to the procedure as the case proceeds.
“Patients will have to travel out of state — in the middle of a pandemic — to receive constitutionally guaranteed health care,” Nancy Northup, the president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights, said in a statement. “And many will not have the means to do so. It’s cruel, unconscionable, and unlawful.”
What does Texas abortion ban mean in other states?
It’s very likely that other states will move to pass similar laws. Seago, with Texas Right to Life, said his organization is working with activists in multiple states who are eager to replicate this model if it succeeds in blocking access to most abortions in Texas.
“It is still a bit untested. We’re still working on what these lawsuits are going to look like if the industry decides to break the law,” Seago said. “So it is a new model that we’re still testing out.”