10th December, 2021
The U.S. Supreme Court on Friday allowed abortion providers to pursue a legal challenge to a ban on most abortions in Texas.
The ruling hangs in the balance the fate of the Republican-backed measure that allows private citizens to enforce it.
The justices, who heard arguments on the case on Nov. 1, lifted a block on lower court proceedings, likely paving the way for a federal judge to formally block the law.
The conservative-majority court on Sept. 1 had declined to halt the law. The court in a separate case dismissed a separate challenge brought by President Joe Biden’s administration.
The Supreme Court has yet to decide another major abortion rights case from Mississippi that could lead to the overturning of the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling that legalized the procedure nationwide.
The court in the Texas case ruled 8-1 that the challenge was allowed under a 1908 Supreme Court ruling that said state laws can be challenged in federal court by suing state government officials.
Texas had sought to exploit a loophole in that earlier ruling by saying no state officials could enforce it, but the Supreme Court said the challengers could pursue their case by naming state licensing officials as defendants.
Conservative Justice Clarence Thomas dissented on that part of the ruling, saying he would have dismissed the lawsuit altogether.
The Texas measure is the nation’s most restrictive abortion law. It bans abortions at around six weeks, a point in time when many women do not yet realize they are pregnant, and has no exception for pregnancies resulting from rape or incest.
It is one of a series of restrictive abortion laws passed by Republicans at the state level in recent years.
The Texas law enables private citizens to sue anyone who performs or assists a woman in getting an abortion after cardiac activity is detected in the embryo.
Individual citizens can be awarded a minimum of $10,000 for bringing successful lawsuits under the law. Biden’s administration has called it a “bounty.”
That feature made it more difficult to directly sue the state to challenge the law’s legality, helping shield the measure from being immediately blocked.
Abortion providers and the Biden administration in separate legal challenges argued that the law violates a woman’s constitutional right to terminate a pregnancy recognized in the Roe v. Wade ruling and is impermissibly designed to evade federal judicial review.
The Mississippi law – blocked by lower courts – bans abortions starting at 15 weeks of pregnancy. The court’s conservative justices during oral arguments in the Mississippi case on Dec. 1 indicated sympathy toward the Mississippi measure and potential support for overturning Roe.
How the conservative justices voted in the Texas case may not guide how they vote on the Mississippi law because the legal issues differed, particularly relating to its unusual enforcement mechanism.