The Supreme Court declined to block a Texas law banning most abortions in a 5-4 ruling.
Chief Justice John Roberts and the court’s three Liberal Justices, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan, opposed the move late Wednesday.
The bold statement, published in a single paragraph, dealt a severe blow to access to abortion in Texas. It also underscored the importance of the court’s ideological shift to the right under former President Donald Trump. All three of his appointees – Justices Brett Kavanaugh, Neil Gorsuch, and Amy Coney Barrett – voted with a majority.
In an angry dissent, Sotomayor described it as “numbing” that the majority of the five judges “bury their heads in the sand” instead of prescribing “blatantly unconstitutional” Texas law.
The “Heartbeat” law came into force on Wednesday. It effectively bans most abortions in Texas after six weeks of gestation – when many women are unaware they are pregnant – and allows individuals to file lawsuits against abortion providers.
In rejecting an urgency motion from abortion lawyers and providers to block implementation of the law, the Supreme Court majority insisted that they are not ruling on the content of the lawsuit.
“In particular, this order is not based on a conclusion about the constitutionality of Texan law,” the statement said.
Rather, they focused on largely procedural grounds, saying that the petitioners had “failed to meet their burden of enforcing an injunction or request for suspension”.
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These petitioners, a group of abortion providers and advocates including Planned Parenthood, made an urgency motion Monday to block implementation. They said the law would set the precedent of Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 case that enshrined women’s right to abortion, essentially overturning it.
In response, a group of Texas officials, including Attorney General Ken Paxton, urged the Supreme Court to reject their opponents’ offer to thwart the law, calling the request “bold”.
“Unparalleled” enforcement system
SB 8 was enacted in May by Republican Governor Greg Abbott. It prohibits doctors from performing or having abortions after they “detect a fetal heartbeat in the unborn child” except in medical emergencies.
It also empowers individuals to file lawsuits against abortion providers or anyone who “assists or aids” the procedures after a heartbeat is detected. These lawsuits can earn a minimum of $ 10,000 in “legal damages” per abortion.
In his dissent, Roberts wrote that the law was “not only unusual but unprecedented” in that it delegated enforcement to the public rather than state officials.
“The desired consequence seems to be to relieve the state of responsibility for the implementation and enforcement of the regulatory regime,” wrote Roberts, who was appointed by Republican President George W. Bush.
Sotomayor, who was appointed by President Barack Obama, was more explicit, writing that “the failure of the court rewards a tactic aimed at avoiding judicial review and adds substantial value to applicants and women seeking abortions in Texas Inflicts harm. “
“In fact, the Texas legislature has named the citizens of the state bounty hunters and offered them cash prizes for civilly prosecuting their neighbors’ medical practices,” she wrote.