The U.S. Supreme Court ruled on Friday that abortion providers in Texas can challenge a state law banning most abortions after six weeks, allowing them to sue at least some state officials in federal court. In the meantime, however, it refused to block the law which bans most abortions after about six weeks of pregnancy.
The court’s ruling came on an 8-1 decision and brought a minor victory to supporters of abortion rights. Only Justice Clarence Thomas dissented. It was also, however, a major disappointment for those who had hoped that the justices would reverse course from a Sept. 1 ruling that had allowed the law to go into effect, causing clinics in the state to curtail performing the procedure and forcing many women seeking abortions to travel out of state.
Justice Sonia Sotomayor agreed with allowing the suit to continue, but condemned the high court’s decision to leave the law in effect, saying it has had “catastrophic consequences for women seeking to exercise their constitutional right to an abortion in Texas.”
The decision leaves a narrow path to challenge the law, commonly known as Senate Bill 8. It allowed suits only against state licensing officials like the executive director of the Texas Medical Board, who are authorized to take disciplinary actions against abortion providers who violate the Texas law.
The abortion providers “have plausibly alleged that S. B. 8 has already had a direct effect on their day-to-day operations,” Justice Neil M. Gorsuch wrote for eight of the nine justices. “And they have identified provisions of state law that appear to impose a duty on the licensing-official defendants to bring disciplinary actions against them if they violate S. B. 8.”
The decision comes less than two weeks after the court heard a direct challenge to the right to abortion established in 1973 in Roe v. Wade, in a case about a Mississippi law that bans most abortions after 15 weeks. The court’s six-member conservative majority seemed prepared to uphold the Mississippi law, and several justices indicated that they would vote to overrule Roe outright. A decision in the case is not expected until late June.