The Texas Supreme Court ruled against abortion providers in a federal challenge to the state’s abortion ban on Friday, essentially shutting down the last chance to stop the law.
The controversial law, which prohibits abortions after 6 weeks of pregnancy and has been copied by other states hoping to pass an abortion ban this year, will stay in place for the foreseeable future, according to The Associated Press.
Texas abortion clinics aren’t dropping the lawsuit, but they expect it to be dismissed in coming weeks or months.
“There is nothing left. This case is effectively over with respect to our challenge to the abortion ban,” Marc Hearron, an attorney for the Center for Reproductive Rights, which led the challenge against the law, told the AP.
The Texas law allows civilians to sue anyone who “aids or abets” someone who gets an abortion after fetal cardiac activity can be detected, offering the possibility of $10,000 for successful lawsuits. It is the most restrictive abortion law in the country and directly against the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1973 decision from Roe v. Wade, which blocks states from banning abortions before a fetus is viable outside the womb around 23 weeks of pregnancy.
By allowing everyday citizens to sue and by banning enforcement by state officials, Senate Bill 8 was designed to escape judicial review in federal court, accordingto The New York Times . Abortion providers asked the Supreme Court to block the law even before it took effect in September, but the justices declined twice. Since state officials don’t enforce the law, it couldn’t be challenged in federal court, the newspaper reported.
The U.S. Supreme Court said in December that opponents could file a lawsuit against Texas medical licensing officials, who might discipline abortion providers in violation of the law. But the Texas Supreme Court ruled on Friday that state licensing officials also don’t have any power to enforce the law and can’t be sued.
The Heartbeat Act’s “emphatic, unambiguous and repeated provisions” say that a private civil action is the “exclusive” method for enforcing the law, Justice Jeffrey Boyd wrote in the court’s opinion.
“These provisions deprive the state-agency executives of any authority they might otherwise have to enforce the requirements through a disciplinary action,” he wrote. “We cannot rewrite the statute.”
The ruling will likely nudge other Republican-controlled states to move forward with similar abortion laws, the AP reported, including in neighboring states where Texans have crossed state lines to get an abortion during the past 6 months. On Thursday, for instance, the Oklahoma Senate approved several anti-abortion measures, including one modeled after the Texas law that allows private lawsuits against those who perform abortions.
Abortions in Texas have dropped by about 50% since the law took effect, the AP reported, and the number of Texans traveling out of state or ordering abortion pills online has increased. The law makes no exceptions in cases of rape or incest.
The future of abortion rights in the U.S. will likely come down to a decision by the U.S. Supreme Court in June. The court is slated to review the abortion law from Mississippi, which bans abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy and is a direct challenge to Roe v. Wade.
The Associated Press: “Texas clinics’ lawsuit over abortion ban ‘effectively over.'”
The New York Times: “Texas Supreme Court Shuts Down Final Challenge to Abortion Law.”
Supreme Court of Texas: “No. 22-0033, Whole Woman’s Health v. Judge Austin Reeve Jackson.”