Senate Bill 8, the so-called Texas “heartbeat bill” has placed $10,000 bounties on the heads of anyone who performs or helps someone get an abortion after a fetal heartbeat is detected (which is typically six weeks after conception, and is truly just electrical flickering in pre-viable fetal cells). The new law went into effect on September 1, and remains in place because the Supreme Court refused a previous request to block its enforcement earlier this month.
The case was then zapped back down to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in Texas. Not only has the Fifth Circuit refused requests to block the Texas abortion ban from being enforced before it has a full hearing on the matter, but it revealed in a hearing schedule issued Tuesday that it likely wouldn’t allow the case to be heard until at least December.
A separate lawsuit against the state's ban has been filed by President Joe Biden’s Justice Department. Other challenges to the law’s constitutionality are expected after Dr. Alan Braid of San Antonio was sued by two out-of-state residents after he announced in the Washington Post that he recently performed an abortion after detecting a fetal “heartbeat” in an ultrasound.
Nancy Northup, President and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights, said the Fifth Circuit’s refusal to move more quickly to resolve this particular case against the controversial abortion law led the Center and the case’s other plaintiffs to file their emergency appeal to the highest court in the land.
“We’re asking the Supreme Court for this expedited appeal because the Fifth Circuit has done nothing to change the dire circumstances on the ground in Texas,” Northup said. “We need this case to move as quickly as possible. Right now, patients are being forced to travel hundreds of miles in the middle of a pandemic to find abortion care.”
“But many people can’t afford to do that,” she said.
“We need this case to move as quickly as possible. Right now, patients are being forced to travel hundreds of miles in the middle of a pandemic to find abortion care. But many people can’t afford to do that." — Nancy Northup, President and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights
Texas abortion provider Whole Woman’s Health, also a plaintiff in the case, has had to dramatically reduce the number of abortions it provides out of fear of running afoul of Senate Bill 8. The law’s looming threat of potentially endless lawsuits has already led many abortion providers in Texas to stop providing care altogether, and has led Whole Woman’s Health to turn most potential patients away in recent weeks, according to the group’s leader.
“For 23 days, we’ve been forced to deny essential abortion care for the vast majority of patients who come to us. Most of those we’ve turned away told us they would not be able to make it out of Texas for care,” said Amy Hagrstrom Miller, Whole Woman’s Health's CEO and President.
“I don't know what happened to these patients after they left our clinics, but I can’t stop thinking about them. Forcing our staff to tell patients ‘no' day after day is cruel. This chaos must come to an end, and that is why we are going back to the Supreme Court today,” she said.
If this latest plea is successful, the U.S. Supreme Court could go ahead and take up the case against Texas’ abortion law without having to wait any longer for the Fifth Circuit to weigh in on the matter.
“Our patients in Texas can’t wait,” said Planned Parenthood President and CEO Alexis McGill Johnson.
Friday's full emergency petition to the U.S. Supreme Court: