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Sotomayor To Law Students: I Can’t Change Texas Abortion Ban, But You Can

The Texas law bans abortions after a fetal heartbeat can be detected.
Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor sits during a group photo of the Justices at the Supreme Court in Washington, DC on April 23, 2021. (Photo by Erin Schaff / POOL / AFP) (Photo by ERIN SCHAFF/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor told a group of law students on Wednesday that while she might not be able to change Texas’s strict new abortion law, they could do something about it.

“You know, I can’t change Texas’s law,” Sotomayor said at an event hosted by the American Bar Association. “But you can, and everyone else who may or may not like it can go out there and be lobbying forces in changing laws that you don’t like.”

“There is going to be a lot of disappointment in the law, a huge amount,” she said. “Look at me, look at my dissents.”

She then caught herself, acknowledging that she was not supposed to be discussing a case currently before the court.

“But my point is that there are going to be a lot of things you don’t like,” and can change, she added.

Sotomayor penned a vehement dissent when the Supreme Court ruled 5 to 4 to allow the Texas law to go into effect on September 1.

The law bans almost all abortions after a fetal heartbeat can be detected, at around six weeks of pregnancy. The law does not make exceptions for abortions in cases of rape and incest. The only time the law permits abortions is when the life of the mother is at stake or the pregnancy could cause “substantial and irreversible impairment of a major bodily function.”

In addition, the Texas law allows private citizens to launch civil lawsuits against anyone who “aids or abets” an abortion after a fetal heartbeat can be detected. At least one such lawsuit has already been filed.

“The Court’s order is stunning,” Sotomayor wrote in her dissent.

“Presented with an application to join a flagrantly unconstitutional law engineered to prohibit women from exercising their constitutional rights and evade judicial scrutiny, a majority of the Justices have opted to bury their heads in the sand,” the justice wrote.

She concluded, “The Court should not be so content to ignore its constitutional obligations to protect not only the rights of women, but also the sanctity of its precedents and of the rule of law.”

Sotomayor joined the court’s two other liberal justices and Chief Justice John Roberts in the minority. The court’s five conservative justices, including the three appointed by former President Donald Trump, comprised the majority in the Texas case.

The Supreme Court begins a new term next week on Monday and will hear its first in-person oral arguments since the court began hearing cases virtually when the COVID-19 pandemic began. The court is set to hear several cases on controversial issues, including a challenge to a Mississippi law that bans most abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy. In that case, Mississippi is arguing against Roe vs. Wade’s ban on states outlawing abortion before the fetus is viable outside the womb, usually considered around 22 weeks of pregnancy.

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