Supreme Court won’t stop Texas abortion ban, but clinics can continue to challenge law

The Supreme Court has ruled that Texas abortion providers can sue the state’s ban on most abortions, but judges allow the law to remain in effect.

The court acted on Friday, more than a month after hearing arguments over the law that makes abortion illegal after heart activity is detected in an embryo. It’s about six weeks, before some women even know they are pregnant. There are no exceptions for rape or incest.

The law has been in effect since September 1.

The result is at best a partial victory for abortion providers. The same federal judge who has already blocked the law once will almost certainly be asked to do so again. But then her decision will be reconsidered by the 5th U.S. Court of Appeals, which twice voted to allow the abortion ban to be enforced.

A file photo from Oct. 22, 2021 of the United States Supreme Court building. The court ruled on Dec. 10, 2021 to allow the continuation of the challenge to Texas’s ban on most abortions, but until the law remains in effect.

J. Scott Applewhite / AP

The case could come back to judges and so far there haven’t been five votes on the nine-member tribunal to suspend the law while the legal battle unfolds.

The conservative majority in the court also appears likely to overturn abortion rights in a Mississippi case that was debated last week, though that decision is not expected until spring.

The High Court ruling came a day after a judge in a Texas state court ruled that law enforcement, which rewards lawsuits against violators by awarding judgments of $ 10,000, is unconstitutional while leaving the law in place.

The legal battle over Texas law centers on its unusual structure and whether it unduly limits how the law can be challenged in court. Texas lawmakers have given law enforcement responsibility to individuals rather than state officials.

The law allows for prosecution of clinics, doctors, and anyone who “assists or encourages” an abortion performed after detection of cardiac activity in the fetus. It is usually around six weeks of pregnancy before some women even know they are pregnant.

The case has raised a complex set of questions about who, if any, can sue in federal court, the usual route to challenge abortion restrictions. Indeed, federal courts regularly suspend similar laws, which are based on traditional enforcement by state and local authorities.

Another issue is who to target with a court order that ostensibly tries to block the law. According to Supreme Court precedents, it is not clear whether a federal court can restrict the actions of state court judges who hear lawsuits against abortion providers, the clerks who would be responsible for accepting cases. documents or anyone who might one day want to take legal action.

Texas law was designed specifically to put obstacles in the way of legal challenges, and so far it has worked.

Since coming into force in September, the law has imposed the most restrictive abortion restrictions in the country since the Supreme Court first declared a woman’s right to abortion in its Roe v. Wade from 1973.

In its first month of operation, a study published by researchers at the University of Texas found that the number of abortions statewide was down 50% from September 2020. The study was based based on data from 19 of the state’s 24 abortion clinics, according to the Texas Policy Evaluation Project.

Residents of Texas who left the state to have an abortion have also had to travel far beyond neighboring states, where clinics cannot keep up with the growing number of Texas patients, according to a separate study by the Guttmacher Institute. .

Judges have refused to block the law once before, voting 5-4 in September to let it go into effect. At the time, the three people appointed by former President Donald Trump and two other Conservative colleagues formed the majority.

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