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5-4 Ruling: Supreme Court Rejects Plea to Block Texas Abortion Law

Prakash Gogoi
Prakash covers news and politics for Vision Times.
Published: September 7, 2021
The U.S Supreme Court denied an attempt to block the implementation of the Texas Heartbeat Act.
The U.S Supreme Court denied an attempt to block the implementation of the Texas Heartbeat Act. (Image: StockSnap via Pixabay)

The U.S. Supreme Court has denied a motion to block a new abortion law from taking effect in Texas. In a 5-4 vote, the Supreme Court allowed the Texas Heartbeat Act (Senate Bill 8), which was signed into law by Republican Governor Greg Abbott in May, to be effective in the state.

The act prohibits physicians from conducting abortions unless they have tried to detect a heartbeat and failed to identify it. Fetal cardiac activity is usually detected at around six weeks into pregnancy, which means that the law will only tolerate abortions prior to this period. Physicians may be held liable for conducting an abortion after detecting a heartbeat.

While state officials are prohibited from enforcing the law, citizens can file such lawsuits against doctors, clinics, individuals, or entities. Monetary compensation of up to $100,000 will be awarded in cases where the lawsuit is won. The law does not exempt pregnancies caused by rape or incest from its purview, but an exemption can be granted for medical emergencies.

In its judgment, the court stated that an application for a stay or injunction requires the plaintiffs to show that they will be “irreparably injured absent a stay” and that the stay is “consistent with the public interest.”

The court stated that it was unclear whether defendants in the case would seek to enforce laws against plaintiffs in a manner “that might permit our intervention.” The state also does not possess the authority to enforce the law “either directly or indirectly.”

“The applicants now before us have raised serious questions regarding the constitutionality of the Texas law at issue. But their application also presents complex and novel antecedent procedural questions on which they have not carried their burden,” the court’s majority said in its opinion. It added that the order was not based on any conclusion about the constitutionality of the Heartbeat Act and that other challenges to the law can be filed in court.

Five conservative judges agreed not to block the law, while three liberal justices together with the remaining conservative judge, Chief Justice John Roberts, dissented. Liberal justice Sonia Sotomayor called the court’s order “stunning.” In her opinion, the Heartbeat Act is an “unconstitutional law engineered to prohibit women from exercising their constitutional rights,” and said the majority of judges chose to “bury their heads in the sand.”

Support and criticism

Pro-choice groups have voiced their dissatisfaction with the court’s judgment. In an interview with The Epoch Times, Christian D. Menefee, attorney for Harris County, the largest county in Texas, called the Heartbeat Act a “dangerous attack” on women’s reproductive health. He said that the law seeks to undermine the precedent set by Roe v. Wade, in which the Supreme Court had legalized abortion.

“It bans abortions before most women even know they’re pregnant, effectively ending all abortions in Texas… The Texas Legislature drafted the law to let any person enforce it because it believed it could evade review by the Supreme Court,” he said. Planned Parenthood stated that the new law could result in clinical staff being saddled with endless lawsuits, which could eventually force them to shut down.

The American Civil Rights Union (ACLU) warned that the new law created a “bounty hunting scheme” that encouraged people to file lawsuits against anyone they thought had violated the Heartbeat Act, including individuals who drove a friend to an abortion clinic. The organization argues that the Heartbeat Act will effectively outlaw 85 to 90 percent of abortions, as people usually do not know they are pregnant within the first six weeks.

President Joe Biden called the Supreme Court ruling “an unprecedented assault” on women’s rights. He directed the Gender Policy Council and the Office of the White House Counsel to launch a “whole-of-government effort to respond to this decision.”

In contrast, pro-life groups have welcomed the Supreme Court decision. Texas Alliance for Life said that the law would ensure that unborn children are protected from the threat of abortion. It pointed out that the state of Texas has increased funding for the “Alternatives to Abortion” program.

According to Texas Right to Life vice president Elizabeth Graham, the new law has saved roughly 150 lives a day. “We will protect preborn babies! This decision is a HUGE victory for the Pro-Life movement. Texas Right to Life hopes to replicate our success across the nation,” the group said in a tweet.

The group had established to help people report violations of the Heartbeat Act. However, the website’s hosting company, GoDaddy, shut down the site, alleging that the portal violated the firm’s policy about gathering information without people’s consent. The group is attempting to transfer the website to a new host.

Meanwhile, the state of New Mexico is bracing for an influx of women from Texas, who will likely visit the state for an abortion. New Mexico is one of six states in America where women can have abortions at any point during their pregnancy. Other states with relaxed abortion laws like Oregon and Colorado are also likely to have more visitors in the coming months.