Supreme Court Issues Another Procedural Blow to Texas Abortion Advocates

This Thursday, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled against Texas abortion providers again in the on-going legal battle over the state’s controversial six-week ban, S.B. 8. This week’s decision was made regarding the issue of sending the case back to the original trial judge, an attempt by abortion advocates to move their challenge to the law out of the hostile 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

The Court’s previous ruling issued in December refused to block the ban outright, allowing it to remain in place while the Court determines whether parts of the law are permissible. While this decision did not eliminate all legal avenues to continue fighting the ban, it significantly narrowed abortion advocates’ options in federal court and legal experts agree that a speedy Texas Supreme Court ruling is not likely. In a petition filed earlier this month, lawyers at the Center for Reproductive Rights argued that procedural delays by the 5th Circuit are thinly-veiled attempts to stall legal challenges to the ban, thereby restricting abortion access across Texas in the meantime.

S.B.8 authorizes vigilantes to enforce the six-week abortion ban in Texas through civil lawsuits. The Court has already stated that it will not be ruling on the constitutionality of a six-week ban on abortion; rather, it will decide whether state governments can circumvent federal, constitutional rights by “delegating to the general public the authority to enforce that prohibition through civil action,” as well as if the federal government can file suit against Texas to stop the ban’s enforcement.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor has repeatedly been an outspoken voice for abortion rights throughout the Court’s deliberation on the legal challenges to S.B. 8; in response to this most recent decision her comments call attention to the smoke and mirrors tactics being used to restrict abortion access in Texas, stating, “Instead of stopping a Fifth Circuit panel from indulging Texas’ newest delay tactics, the Court allows the State yet again to extend the deprivation of the federal constitutional rights of its citizens through procedural manipulation,” and that “state officials knew that the fear and confusion caused by this legal-procedural labyrinth would restrict citizens from accessing constitutionally protected medical care.”

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