What happens next in abortion providers’ fight to challenge Texas law: NPR

Abortion rights supporters and anti-abortion protesters rallied outside the United States Supreme Court last month in Washington, D.C.

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Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Abortion rights supporters and anti-abortion protesters rallied outside the United States Supreme Court last month in Washington, D.C.

Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Saying the Supreme Court “let us down today,” the abortion provider at the heart of the legal challenge to SB 8 — the controversial Texas law that allows private citizens to sue anyone who helps with abortions over- beyond six weeks of pregnancy – vowed to continue fighting the law, which remains in force.

But the provider and its legal allies said Friday’s ruling, a narrow and technical ruling led by the court’s more conservative members, left them with fewer options to do so.

“For 101 days, our patients had only two choices: carry a pregnancy they didn’t want to start or jump through hoops to leave the state. It’s heartbreaking and never should have happened for to start”, wrote Whole Woman’s Healtha network of abortion providers that operates four clinics in Texas.

“We were hoping for a statewide injunction, but there is no clear path to it. Rest assured, we will NOT stop fighting,” the provider wrote.

SB 8 remains in effect while the lawsuit, called Whole Woman’s Health v. Jackson, is authorized to sue in federal court. At least two other major challenges to the law exist.

The legal future is sufficiently uncertain that abortion providers have said they are likely to continue to deny services to patients who are already past six weeks pregnant.

“It doesn’t look like a green light for us to reopen,” said Amy Hagstrom Miller, president and CEO of Whole Woman’s Health. “The risk to clinic staff and doctors remains high.”

Anti-abortion groups in the state welcomed the decision.

“As we continue to fight for this policy in the lower courts, Texas Right to Life celebrates that the Texas Heartbeat Act will continue to save between 75 and 100 unborn children from abortion each day,” a spokesperson said. of Texas Right To Life, an anti-abortion group involved in litigation over SB 8, using another name for the law.

Ruling removes some defendants from case, leaves law in place

The complicated ruling, handed down Friday morning by an 8-1 vote, allows Whole Woman’s Health’s challenge to proceed to a lower court. In this sense, it is a victory for the supplier.

But by another 5-4 vote, the justices ruled that the Texas judges and clerks – who had been named defendants – should be removed from the trial.

As a result, any future injunctions in the case will not block the law, the lawyers said, because the only remaining defendants are officials who handle medical and pharmaceutical licensing. Any court order against them would only affect their licensing powers, said Marc Hearron, senior counsel for the Center for Reproductive Rights, a legal defense group whose attorneys are leading the litigation.

“An injunction against these officials would not prevent the filing of lawsuits by private parties, who would seek the bounty of $10,000 or more against a clinic or physician or other person who provides or assists with an abortion in violation of SB 8 “, said Hearron. , who argued the case in the Supreme Court in November.

Abortion rights advocates – joined in their efforts by the US Department of Justice – had hoped the court would issue an order suspending enforcement.

The Supreme Court declined to do so, meaning the law remains in effect, as it has since September 1.

“The legal whiplash of the past 100 days has had an excruciating impact on our staff and our patients. Our staff are heartbroken, scared and discouraged,” Hagstrom Miller said.

The issue of private citizens suing abortion providers remains in play

At the heart of SB 8 is a new way to ban abortion after six weeks of pregnancy: rather than leaving enforcement to government officials, which is prohibited by Roe vs. Wade, Texas law allows private citizens to sue anyone who witnesses an abortion. If successful, the person suing can win a bounty of at least $10,000, which must be paid by the defendant.

In a partial dissent, Chief Justice John Roberts wrote, “The nature of the federal law violated does not matter; it is the role of the Supreme Court in our constitutional system that is at stake.”

“It is astonishing that the Supreme Court essentially said that the federal courts could not stop this bounty hunting program set up to blatantly deprive Texans of their constitutional right to abortion. The Court abandoned its duty to ensure that states do not challenge its decisions,” Nancy said. Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights.

Friday’s decision did not address the constitutionality of the law. That legal battle now goes to federal court in Austin.

That judge, U.S. District Court Judge Robert Pitman, had previously issued an injunction – “this Court will not sanction one more day this offensive deprivation of such an important right”, he wrote in his order – but this injunction was overturned by a search appeal.

But even if Pitman comes out in favor of Whole Woman’s Health, SB 8 explicitly tells Texas state court judges that they are not bound by a federal district court decision, Julie Murray said. , an attorney at Planned Parenthood.

“We will certainly continue to pursue our claims against state licensing officials that SB 8 is unconstitutional, but even with a district court ruling, the threat of bounty hunting lawsuits will continue,” Murray said. .

The case could eventually return to the Supreme Court.

Other challenges to Texas law and Roe vs. Wade

Additionally, SB 8 faces other legal challenges, including another case led by the Center for Reproductive Rights called Braid vs. Stilley.

The case centers on Dr. Alan Braid, a doctor who performs abortions in San Antonio. Six days after the law took effect, Braid aborted a woman whose first-trimester pregnancy was already over the six-week limit allowed by law.

After writing about abortion in a Washington Post op-ed, Braid was sued under SB 8 by three people: Chicago resident Felipe Gomez, Cedarville, Ark. resident Oscar Stilley, and Wolfgang Hirczy of mino. , a resident of Bellaire, Texas.

These are the only known lawsuits filed under Texas law, according to attorneys representing Braid.

Braid’s lawsuit effectively asks a federal court in Illinois to consolidate the three claims against him and declare them invalid by declaring SB 8 unconstitutional. This complaint was filed in October.

In addition to the federal lawsuits, Planned Parenthood challenged the law in state court.

In that case, a San Antonio State District Court judge ruled on Thursday that the enforcement mechanism was unconstitutional. In a 48-page opinion, Judge David Peeples condemned SB 8 for granting “21 million Texans the power to bring cases without any guidance, supervision or selection.”

But he did not issue an injunction, leaving the law in place. The decision has already been appealed.

The various challenges of SB 8 are looming Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization.

The lawsuit, brought by Mississippi’s only abortion clinic, challenges a new Mississippi law that seeks to ban most abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy, far earlier than has long been allowed under Roe vs. Wade.

The Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the case earlier this month. His decision — which could weaken deer or reverse it completely – is expected this summer.

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