While they didn’t rule on the merits of the case, the justices of the U.S. Supreme Court declined on Wednesday to block a new law out of Texas that bars most abortions after a heartbeat can be detected in the fetus, usually at about six weeks gestation.
In response to the move, President Joe Biden has ordered his administration to do whatever it can to intervene, calling the Supreme Court’s Wednesday ruling an “unprecedented assault on a woman’s constitutional rights,” according to The Daily Wire.
It remains unclear, however, what various agencies within the federal government can do to block the Lone Star State from enforcing its new abortion ban.
Questions of constitutionality
In an unsigned 5–4 decision, the Supreme Court ruled that challengers of the new Texas law had failed to “carry the burden” necessary for an injunction. Still, the majority acknowledged concerns about the merits of the law.
“The applicants now before us have raised serious questions regarding the constitutionality of the Texas law at issue,” the justices wrote. “But their application also presents complex and novel antecedent procedural questions on which they have not carried their burden.”
The justices stressed that they “do not purport to resolve definitively any jurisdictional or substantive claim in the applicants’ lawsuit” and expected to rule again on the case in the future.
“In particular,” they said, “this order is not based on any conclusion about the constitutionality of Texas’s law, and in no way limits other procedurally proper challenges to the Texas law, including in Texas state courts.”
The four jurists in the liberal minority — Chief Justice John Roberts as well as Justices Stephen Breyer, Elena Kagen, and Sonia Sotomayor — each penned dissents of their own, and President Biden, for his part, was quick to follow.
Biden sics admin on Texas
On Thursday morning, the president issued a furious statement decrying the Supreme Court’s decision and pontificating about the potential consequences. “While the Chief Justice was clear to stress that the action by the Supreme Court is not a final ruling on the future of Roe, the impact of last night’s decision will be immediate and requires an immediate response,” Biden said, according to The Daily Wire.
Biden said he’s directing federal agencies including “the Office of the White House Counsel to launch a whole-of-government effort to respond to this decision, looking specifically to the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Justice to see what steps the Federal Government can take to ensure that women in Texas have access to safe and legal abortions as protected by Roe.”
He also wants those agencies to examine “what legal tools we have to insulate women and providers from the impact of Texas’ bizarre scheme of outsourced enforcement to private parties.” But it remains to be seen if there is actually anything the federal government can do legally, given that it won’t be the state enforcing the new law, but rather, Texas citizens, who are empowered under the measure to file civil suits against abortion providers and those who “aid and abet” them.
Only time will tell how this decades-long court battle ultimately plays out, but one thing is for certain: on the issue of abortion, Democrats like Biden won’t be backing down without a fight.