U.S. Supreme Court Decides to Leave Texas Abortion Law in Place After Divided Ruling
The U.S. Supreme Court denied blocking a Texas law banning abortions after six weeks of pregnancy with a 5-to-4 ruling late Wednesday. The decision came after an emergency appeal was filed by Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers on Monday to block the law from coming into effect.
Among those who dissented were one conservative, Chief Justice John Roberts, and the high court's three liberal justices Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor, and Elena Kagan. The three Trump-appointed justices, Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh, and Amy Coney Barrett, joined the two other conservative judges in the motion to reject the petition.
Justice Sotomayor expressed her strong opposition to the court's ruling in her dissent.
"The court's order is stunning," she wrote. "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…Because the court's failure to act rewards tactics designed to avoid judicial review and inflicts significant harm on the applicants and women seeking abortions in Texas, I dissent."
In May, Governor Greg Abbott signed the Texas law that went into effect on Wednesday that prohibits women from getting an abortion after a fetal heartbeat is detected, roughly at about six weeks of pregnancy. Often at this stage, women are unaware of their pregnancy.
Statistics cited to abortion rights groups, approximately 85 to 90 percent of women who have an abortion in Texas are at least six weeks into their pregnancies.
Abortion providers filed a federal lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of Texas' law using the Supreme Court's ruling on Roe v. Wade as precedent. According to the ruling, the Constitution of the United States protects pregnant women's liberty to choose an abortion without excessive government restrictions.
However, the high court stated that the providers did not address "complex and novel antecedent procedural questions" in their case.
The ruling is at odds with previous Supreme Court decisions, which have prohibited states from banning abortions before fetal viability at 22 to 24 weeks but left open the possibility for the case to return to the Supreme Court.
"In reaching this conclusion, we stress that we do not purport to resolve definitively any jurisdictional or substantive claim in the applicants' lawsuit," the justices wrote in their decision. "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."
In addition to the bill's limited time constrictions, it empowers private citizens to place lawsuits against those who violate the law and assist in the termination of a pregnancy; this includes individuals who drive women to abortion appointments.
The only exception made under the law is fatal conditions or "serious medical emergency," where a doctor must prove that the woman could die or face severe impairments if the abortion is not completed.
"Texas's law delegates to private individuals the power to prevent a woman from obtaining an abortion during the first stage of pregnancy," Justice Kagan wrote in her dissent. "But a woman has a federal constitutional right to obtain an abortion during that first stage."
It is predicted that the law will drive women to travel outside of state borders to obtain abortions, specifically those in underserved and minority communities. According to 2020 Texas state data on Induced Terminations of Pregnancy, Black and Hispanic people made up the majority of people obtaining abortions.
After the law came into effect on Wednesday, abortion providers reported they were being harassed by anti-abortion activists who, under the abortion ban, have the power to bring private enforcement actions.
Amy Hagstrom Miller, CEO of Whole Women's Health, told reporters, "The Protesters called the police twice and the fire department once (on Tuesday) in Fort Worth, all in their attempts to say there were too many patients, to try to find some law that we were breaking."
Clinics across the state are scrambling against the current law's restrictions which place a costly burden if lawsuits are effectuated, regardless of whether an abortion is carried out or not. Under the law, citizens who win cases can be entitled to at least $10,000 in damages and prohibits clinics from recuperating attorney fees from their opponents, even if a judge sides with the provider in the lawsuit.
Furthermore, clinics are prohibited from transferring cases to other venues without previous agreements or permissions under the law.
President Joe Biden made a statement on Wednesday night denouncing the Texas law.
"This extreme Texas law blatantly violates the constitutional right established under Roe v. Wade and upheld as precedent for nearly half a century," he 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."
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