The Supreme Court on Thursday rejected a request from abortion providers in Texas to direct the 5th Circuit to send the case to federal district court where prompt action could be taken on their challenge to a state law that bans most abortions after six weeks. Instead, the case was sent to the Texas Supreme Court. The ruling will add months of delay to legal proceedings.
Texas’ new abortion law — which bans abortions at about six weeks from the patient’s last menstrual period — rests on the actions of private citizens to enforce the law, rather than the government. Individuals are able to sue anyone who performs an abortion or “aids and abets” it, and makes no exceptions for pregnancies resulting from incest or rape.
The majority gave no reasons for its ruling, but three liberal justices emphasized the harm caused to the women in Texas by effectively allowing the law to stay in place indefinitely.
spoke out against the decision. Justices Stephen G. Breyer and Sonia Sotomayor joined each other’s dissents, and Justice Elena Kagan joined both.
“It has been over four months since Texas Senate Bill 8 took effect,” Justice Sotomayor wrote. “The law immediately devastated access to abortion care in Texas through a complicated private bounty-hunter scheme that violates nearly 50 years of this court’s precedents.”
“Today, for the fourth time, this court declines to protect pregnant Texans from egregious violations of their constitutional rights,” she wrote, referring to a series of rulings starting with one in September that let the law go into effect notwithstanding Supreme Court precedents that bar states from banning abortions before fetal viability, which is ordinarily around 23 weeks.
“One month after directing that the petitioners’ suit could proceed in part, the court countenances yet another violation of its own commands,” Justice Sotomayor wrote. “Instead of stopping a Fifth Circuit panel from indulging Texas’ newest delay tactics, the court allows the state yet again to extend the deprivation of the federal constitutional rights of its citizens through procedural manipulation.”