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Supreme Court declines request to speed up Texas abortion law challenge

Supreme Court, Abortion
A pro-choice demonstrator stands outside the U.S. Supreme Court building in Washington, D.C. on Dec. 1, 2021. |

The U.S. Supreme Court has rejected abortion providers’ request to accelerate the ongoing challenge to Texas' heartbeat abortion ban by ordering a federal appeals court to return the case to a federal judge. The case will now go to the Texas Supreme Court.

The court offered no explanation for its Thursday action, days after a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit sent the challenge to the Texas Supreme Court, CBS News reported.

The Texas Heartbeat Act, which took effect last September, bans most abortions after a baby's heartbeat can be detected. It also allows private citizens to take civil action against anyone who “performs and induces an abortion” or “knowingly engages in conduct that aids or abets the performance or inducement of an abortion, including paying for or reimbursing the costs of abortion through insurance or otherwise.”

In the Supreme Court's decision, which will likely allow the abortion law to remain in effect for months before a ruling is handed down, three progressive justices dissented.

Writing her dissent to the majority's decision, Justice Sonia Sotomayor said, “Today, for the fourth time, this Court declines to protect pregnant Texans from egregious violations of their constitutional rights.”

She added, “This case is a disaster for the rule of law and a grave disservice to women in Texas, who have a right to control their own bodies. I will not stand by silently as a State continues to nullify this constitutional guarantee.”

In the ruling of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit last Monday, Circuit Judge Edith H. Jones, a Reagan appointee, authored the majority opinion stating that “the federal courts are bound by an authoritative determination of state law by the state’s highest court.”

“Here, there is a possibility that federal courts could declare S.B. 8 constitutionally infirm even though our conclusions might be based entirely on a faulty understanding of Texas law,” continued Jones. “To avert creating needless friction with a coequal sovereign in our federal system, this court reasonably seeks the Texas Supreme Court’s final word on the matter.”

Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights, a pro-abortion advocacy organization, said in a statement at the time that the panel had “defied a Supreme Court ruling and delayed a reckoning on S.B. 8.”

“As a result, Texans will continue to have to travel hundreds of miles to access abortion care, and those without means to do so will be forced to continue their pregnancies,” said Northup. “There is now no end in sight for this injustice that has been allowed to go on for almost five months.”

However, the pro-life group Texas Right to Life, which supports the law, celebrated last Monday’s panel decision, calling the decision “great news.”

“This is great news for Texas because such action is more likely to ensure a just and favorable ruling, compared to that which could be expected from a pro-abortion federal district judge, to whom the abortion industry asked to send the case,” stated the group.

“Beyond this, sending the lawsuit to the Supreme Court of Texas is appropriate because the only defendants left in the case are state agencies. Most exciting of all is that the Texas Heartbeat Act has withstood another court decision and is continuing to save an estimated 100 preborn lives every day.”

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