Texas has been at the center of a national debate over abortion rights as it defends a law prohibiting most abortions after about six weeks into a pregnancy.
In a ruling on Friday, the U.S. Supreme Court sent the law to a conservative-leaning appeals court that had previously upheld the statewide abortion ban, the Washington Examiner reported.
Courts divided on controversial issue
The nation’s highest court did allow the challenge by abortion providers to proceed, but the decision kept the law in place while the matter is being resolved in court.
Louisiana’s 5th Circuit Appeals Court has upheld the ban in the past and opponents of the law petitioned to have the court sent back to the district court instead.
It is worth noting that it was a deviation from normal procedures for the Supreme Court to send the case to the appeals court. Of course, it was also unorthodox to hear the case without it going through the appeals court first.
Last week, the court determined that abortion providers can proceed with their lawsuit against state medical licensing officials, though it prevented such challenges against state court judges and clerks.
Another deviation from the norm came when those abortion providers sought to have the case immediately sent to U.S. District Judge Robert Pitman, who attempted to issue a stay against the law earlier this year.
“Interesting issues about state sovereignty”
State officials came out on top in that debate and the dispute will be fast-tracked to the 5th Circuit instead of Pitman’s court.
For that reason, it could be weeks or months before the case is heard. Meanwhile, abortion providers in Texas remain constrained by the law currently in effect.
Heritage Foundation legal and judicial studies fellow Zack Smith weighed in on the latest developments, explaining that the Texas case is more procedural in nature and that the root issue is not the law itself but who is allowed to sue.
“There were some really interesting issues about state sovereignty, about who should be allowed to be sued under an earlier Supreme Court precedent,” he said.
In the end, the fate of existing abortion precedents could hinge on the Supreme Court’s decision in a different case involving Mississippi’s ban on most abortions after 15 weeks. If that law is upheld, it would replace the current precedent set at 24 weeks.