Supreme Court refuses to block restrictive Texas abortion law

The Supreme Court declined to block a Texas law banning most abortions in a 5-4 decision late Wednesday. Chief Justice John Roberts and the court’s three Democratic appointees, Justices Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan, dissented.

The “heartbeat” law took effect after midnight in Texas on Wednesday. It bars most abortions after as early as six weeks of pregnancy — when many women still have yet to discover they are pregnant — and allows private citizens to file civil lawsuits against abortion providers. The so-called Heartbeat Act also gives any individual the right to sue doctors who perform an abortion past the six-week point. Sotomayor called the decision “stunning,” saying the Texas law “flouts nearly 50 years of federal precedents.” Doctors and women’s rights groups have heavily criticised the law, which is one of the most restrictive in the country, and took effect after the conservative-leaning Supreme Court failed to respond to an emergency appeal. Abortion and women’s health providers had filed an emergency request to the Supreme Court calling for an injunction on enforcement of the ban. However, the court refused.

In an unsigned explanation the court’s majority said their decision was “not based on any conclusion about the constitutionality of Texas’s law”, and said legal challenges could proceed. Texas lawmakers wrote the law to evade federal court review by allowing private citizens to bring civil lawsuits in state court against anyone involved in an abortion, other than the patient. Other abortion laws are enforced by state and local officials, with criminal sanctions possible. Rights groups, including Planned Parenthood and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) who had requested that the Supreme Court block the legislation, say they will not give up the fight.