A federal appeals court on Monday delivered a blow to abortion providers in their challenge to a Texas law that bans abortions after about six weeks into a pregnancy.
The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals rejected in a 2-1 decision abortion providers’ request to remand the case back to a U.S. district judge who had previously stayed the law. Instead, the Fifth Circuit directed the case to the Texas Supreme Court, an outcome sought by state attorneys, according to Politico.
“The move by the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals effectively prolongs the litigation over the unusual anti-abortion statute, leaving in place a law that has led to a dramatic reduction in the number of abortions performed in the state since the measure took effect in September,” Politico reported. “The 2-1 court decision held that there was too much ambiguity around the meaning of the Texas law to allow federal courts to continue to act on the legal challenge without definitive guidance from Texas’s top court.”
The Texas law, known as a heartbeat bill, bans abortions after fetal cardiac activity is detected, which happens around six weeks.
The Fifth Circuit’s decision follows a ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court last month remanding the case back to the Fifth Circuit, which Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton had requested. The Supreme Court allowed the Texas law to remain in place while narrowing the grounds on which the abortion providers could challenge the law. The court ruled that the case could continue against state licensing officials who oversee health care workers.
Center for Reproductive Rights attorney Marc Hearron expressed doubt about the abortion providers’ case in January after the December 10 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that left the Texas law standing.
“The Supreme Court gave the green light to this vigilante scheme and said if a state wants to pass a law that infringes on a constitutional right and delegate enforcement to the general public, federal courts can’t do anything to stop that. That’s the core of the case,” Hearron said, according to Politico.
“There’s a part of our case left against these licensing officials, and it’s an important part of the case, but people need to understand that even what’s left is being delayed and strung out while patients across Texas are denied their constitutional rights,” he added.
While the legal battles over the Texas law have continued, other GOP-run states have pursued passing their own versions. The Texas law contains a unique enforcement mechanism that has helped it evade a court-ordered stay thus far. The Texas law empowers private citizens to sue those who aid and abet in performing illegal abortions.
Bills with similar language to the Texas law have been introduced in Alabama, Florida, Missouri, and Ohio. Oklahoma state Sen. Sean Roberts (R) has pledged to introduce a version of the law in his state.
“The pro-life citizens of Oklahoma should have the ability to help hold these doctors accountable,” Roberts said in a statement, according to The Hill. “Individual citizens are an extremely important part of making sure that we are protecting the lives of the unborn. This legislation puts principle into action and I am going to fight extremely hard to get it passed during the upcoming session.”