The U.S. Supreme Court has declined to consider a legal challenge to a Texas abortion law that bans nearly all abortions after six weeks gestation, which is the overwhelming number of all abortions performed. Trump-appointed justices Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Barrett both voted to kill the challenge to the pro-life law.
The 5-4 decision against an emergency request from abortion providers to block the law, which makes abortion illegal once a fetal heartbeat can be detected. Chief Justice John Roberts joined the court’s three liberal justices to dissent from the decision.
It is the most restrictive abortion law that has been enacted since the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade ruling made abortion legal in the U.S. in 1973. Twelve other states have tried to implement heartbeat laws, but have been blocked from doing so by various legal challenges.
Lower courts including the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals also declined to block the law as requested by Whole Woman’s Health, an abortion provider who sued the state.
A different law
The Texas law is different from previous laws in that it authorizes private citizens to sue abortion providers and individuals who perform or facilitate abortions, rather than setting up officials to enforce the law.
The majority ruling said that that the challengers raised “serious questions” about whether the law was constitutional, but that they had failed to make a persuasive enough case for the court to step in.
Abortion providers in the state were complying with the law on Wednesday, the first day it was in effect, by denying abortions to women when a fetal heartbeat is detected, usually around six weeks gestation. The only exemptions to the law are for medical emergencies.
The groups estimated that 85 to 90% of abortions take place after the heartbeat is detected.
Liberals stunned by ruling
The liberal justices–Sonya Sotomayor, Elena Kagan and Stephen Breyer–said the law was “blatantly unconstitutional,” while Roberts said he would like to consider whether the unconventional law was constitutional.
He was concerned that it might not be permissible for the state to “avoid responsibility for its laws in such a manner,” since the law puts responsibility on citizens and courts to enforce it rather than the state government.
But for now, the law will stand, and will likely save thousands of unborn human lives unless those who support abortion rights find a way to challenge it again.
Could this be the beginning of the end for Roe V. Wade? Only time will tell.