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U.S. Supreme Court Rules That Challenge to Texas Abortion Law Can Continue, But Doesn't Shut Law Down

Houston's March for Women's Rights in October
Houston's March for Women's Rights in October Photo by Violeta Alvarez

In a partial and very narrow victory for opponents of S.B. 8, the new Texas abortion law that essentially shreds Roe v. Wade protections by banning abortions after the six week mark, the U. S. Supreme Court Friday voted 8-1 to allow abortion providers to continue to challenge the new law.

This means abortion providers can continue their suite against state officials that license abortion facilities. However, the justices also ruled in a 5-4 vote that the Justice Department cannot continue its separate suit against Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, state court judges or court clerks.

The majority opinion stated that since none of those groups have enforcement authority in regards to the new law which relies on civil penalties, they could not be held accountable. Chief Justice John Roberts joined the three-member liberal wing of the court which disagreed with that finding.

Even as some of the challenges are allowed, the court did nothing to stop the continued implementation of the new Texas law..  Under its provisions, once a fetal heartbeat is detected, anyone who performs or aids in the performance of an abortion can be sued in civil court by any individual. That individual can receive a civil judgement of up to $10,000 per person involved in carrying out the abortion — hence the phrase "bounty hunter" that has come to be attached to the measure.

As a result, abortion centers in nearby states report they have seen a significant upsurge in the number of clients coming to them from Texas.

Roberts writing for the minority made it clear he sees the Texas law as an attack on the Supreme Court itself. He wrote:

"The clear purpose and actual effect of S.B. 8 has been to nullify this Court’s rulings."It is, however, a basic principle that the Constitution is the 'fundamental and paramount law of the nation,' and '[i]t is emphatically the province and duty of the judicial department to say what the law is.'"

The court still has not issued its ruling in the Mississippi case that would ban all abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy. Several of the most conservative judges on the high court appear pre-disposed to overturn Roe in its entirety.
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Margaret Downing is the editor-in-chief who oversees the Houston Press newsroom and its online publication. She frequently writes on a wide range of subjects.
Contact: Margaret Downing