The Supreme Court declined to stay a Texas law banning most abortions after six weeks in a 5-4 decision on Thursday.
The ruling comes 24 hours after the Texas law went into effect on Wednesday morning, banning abortions in almost all cases after cardiac activity is detected in the unborn child. The court’s decision sets up a potentially historic win for the pro-life movement by overturning Supreme Court precedents set in 1992 in Planned Parenthood v. Casey and in 1973 in Roe v. Wade, according to The Washington Free Beacon.
While Texas is not the first state to enact such legislation, known as “heartbeat” laws, Texas’s case is the first to avoid a stay preventing the law from taking effect. The Supreme Court decided in a narrow decision against granting relief to a group of abortion providers in the state. Chief Justice John Roberts joined the court’s liberal wing in dissenting.
The court’s conservative majority rejected the abortion providers’ request because of the law’s enforcement mechanism, which separates it from “heartbeat” laws passed in other states. The law deputizes private citizens, granting them standing to file lawsuits against violating abortion providers rather than authorizing state agents to police them. The court dismissed the request, which names every state court judge and clerk as defendants, based on procedural grounds.
“It is unclear whether the named defendants in this lawsuit can or will seek to enforce the Texas law against the applicants in a manner that might permit our intervention,” the ruling states. “The State has represented that neither it nor its executive employees possess the authority to enforce the Texas law either directly or indirectly. Nor is it clear whether, under existing precedent, this Court can issue an injunction against state judges asked to decide a lawsuit under Texas’s law.”
The court was also careful not to suggest it had made a decision on the constitutionality of the law.
“In reaching this conclusion, we stress that we do not purport to resolve definitively any jurisdictional or substantive claim in the applicants’ lawsuit. 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,” the opinion states.
The Texas law allows citizens to sue abortion providers and those who “aid and abet” illegal procedures for a financial reward if the lawsuit is successful. According to The New York Times:
The Texas law bars state officials from actually enforcing it, a design intended to make it difficult to challenge in the courts.
Usually a lawsuit aiming to block such a law as unconstitutional names state officials as defendants. Instead, the Texas law deputizes private citizens to sue anyone who performs an abortion or “aids and abets” a procedure. Plaintiffs who have no connection to the patient or the clinic may sue and recover legal fees, as well as $10,000 if they win.