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Texas Supreme Court Deals Another Blow to Clinics Seeking to Block Restrictive Abortion Law

Texas Supreme Court Deals Another Blow to Clinics Seeking to Block Restrictive Abortion Law

On Friday, the Texas Supreme Court effectively ended a challenge by clinics to a restrictive law that bans most abortions in the state by ruling that state officials including those tasked with doctor licensing have no role in enforcing the law. The Texas high court ruled that only private citizens, not state officials, can enforce the law known as SB8 by suing anyone who performs or assists a woman in obtaining an abortion after about six weeks of pregnancy. The conservative-leaning U.S. Supreme Court allowed the case to partly move forward in December against only those same licensing officials and not others while leaving the ban in place.

The clinics had sought an injunction barring the officials from enforcing the law, which took effect September 1st and bans abortions after the first signs of cardiac activity are detected in the embryo. Suing officials would have allowed the clinics to overcome a novel feature of the law that has frustrated their ability to challenge it in federal court by placing enforcement in the hands of private citizens, rather than the state officials. Citizens can be awarded at least $10,000 for successful lawsuits.

Photo by Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images

After the Supreme Court’s December ruling, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals asked the Republican-dominated Texas Supreme Court to consider whether those licensing officials could indirectly enforce the law by taking disciplinary actions against violators. The clinics contend the law is unconstitutional under Roe v. Wade, the 1973 decision that made abortion legal nationwide, and that the U.S. Supreme Court with its 6-3 conservative majority is now weighing rolling back or overturning in a Mississippi case.

While the case now will return to the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, abortion rights groups said the ruling meant their high-profile case would now be thrown out. Other challenges to the law remain pending. “With this ruling, the sliver of this case that we were left with is gone,” Nancy Northup, president of the Center for Reproductive Rights, which represented the clinics, said in a statement.

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