The U.S. Supreme Court has allowed a Texas law that bans most abortions in the state to remain in place, after voting 5-4 to deny an emergency request by abortion rights groups to block it from taking effect.
An unsigned order from the majority late Wednesday said the challengers did not meet the high burden necessary for halting the law, while leaving open the possibility that it could face other challenges.
“In reaching this conclusion, we stress that we do not purport to resolve definitively any jurisdictional or substantive claim in the applicants’ lawsuit,” the order said. “In particular, this order is not based on any conclusion about the constitutionality of Texas’s law, and in no way limits other procedurally proper challenges to the Texas law, including in Texas state courts.”
Chief Justice John Roberts joined the court’s three liberal justices in opposing the decision.
Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote in a dissenting opinion that the law “immediately prohibits care for at least 85% of Texas abortion patients” and is “clearly unconstitutional under existing precedents.”
“Presented with an application to enjoin a flagrantly unconstitutional law engineered to prohibit women from exercising their constitutional rights and evade judicial scrutiny, a majority of Justices have opted to bury their heads in the sand,” Sotomayor said.
In a statement earlier Wednesday, U.S. President Joe Biden, an abortion rights supporter, as are many U.S. Democrats, said the law in the southwestern state “blatantly violates the constitutional right established” under the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, saying that women have a constitutional right to end a pregnancy in the first six months when the fetus is incapable of surviving outside the womb.
Texas is among a dozen mostly Republican-led states that have enacted "heartbeat" abortion bans, which outlaw the procedure once the rhythmic contracting of fetal cardiac tissue can be detected, often at six weeks, and sometimes before a woman realizes she is pregnant.
Courts in the past have blocked such bans.
The Texas anti-abortion law is unusual in that it gives private citizens the power to enforce it by allowing them to sue abortion providers and anyone who “aids or abets” an abortion after six weeks. Those winning such lawsuits would be entitled to at least $10,000.
Biden said, “The Texas law will significantly impair women’s access to the health care they need, particularly for communities of color and individuals with low incomes.”
“And, outrageously, it deputizes private citizens to bring lawsuits against anyone who they believe has helped another person get an abortion, which might even include family members, health care workers, front desk staff at a health care clinic, or strangers with no connection to the individual,” the U.S. leader said.
Biden said his administration is “deeply committed” to defending abortion rights established under the 1973 decision.
The Texas law went into effect at the start of the day Wednesday, and even before the Supreme Court issued its order supporters of the law praised the court for not blocking it.
“Undoubtedly, today is a historic and hopeful day,” said Chelsey Youman, an official with the Human Coalition Action group in Texas that worked for passage of the law. “Texas is the first state to successfully protect the most vulnerable among us, preborn children, by outlawing abortion once their heartbeats are detected.”
Abortion providers in Texas, including Planned Parenthood and Whole Women’s Health, said they would no longer terminate pregnancies more than six weeks after a woman’s last menstrual period.
Abortion rights is one of the most contested issues in American political life.
Although national polls show that most Americans support retaining the nearly five-decades-old Roe ruling, conservative-dominated state legislatures with Republican majorities have approved a range of laws to limit the number of abortions, with some anti-abortion lawmakers actively petitioning the high court to ban the procedures outright.
The Supreme Court, with its 6-to-3 conservative majority, has agreed to hear arguments in its upcoming term starting in October about a Mississippi law that bans most abortions after 15 weeks, significantly before fetal viability.