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SCOTUS Won’t Overturn Texas Abortion Ban But Will Allow For Clinics to Sue

SCOTUS Won’t Overturn Texas Abortion Ban But Will Allow For Clinics to Sue

The Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) ruled on Friday that Texas abortion providers can sue over the state’s ban on most abortions, but the justices are allowing the law to remain in effect.

The court made its ruling more than a month after hearing arguments over the law that makes abortion illegal after any signs of cardiac activity are detected in an embryo. Although most fetal heartbeats can be detected by about the sixth week of gestation, most people don’t even know they are pregnant that early. The Texas law also provides no exceptions for pregnancies that occur due to rape or incest, and authorizes lawsuits against clinics, doctors, and anyone who “aids or abets” an abortion performed after the legally allowed six weeks.

The Roberts Court, April 23, 2021
Seated from left to right: Justices Samuel A. Alito, Jr. and Clarence Thomas, Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr., and Justices Stephen G. Breyer and Sonia Sotomayor
Standing from left to right: Justices Brett M. Kavanaugh, Elena Kagan, Neil M. Gorsuch, and Amy Coney Barrett.
Photograph by Fred Schilling, Collection of the Supreme Court of the United States

Since it took effect in September, the law has imposed the most restrictive abortion curbs in the nation since the Supreme Court first declared a woman’s right to an abortion in its 1973 Roe v. Wade decision. The Court was divided 5-4, with conservatives in the majority, on another knotty issue, whom to target with a court order that ostensibly tries to block the law. The Justices ruled that Texas licensing officials may be sued, but dismissed claims against state court judges, court clerks, and Attorney General Ken Paxton.

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

The case could return to the Supreme Court, and so far there have not been five votes on the nine-member court to put the law on hold while the legal fight plays out.

In a separate opinion, Justice Sonia Sotomayor chastised her colleagues for what she said was “delay” in the case that has had “catastrophic consequences for women seeking to exercise their constitutional right to an abortion in Texas.” She said the court’s decision closed off the most direct route to challenging the law and would “clear the way” for other states to “reprise and perfect Texas’ scheme in the future to target the exercise of any right recognized by this court with which they disagree.”

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