Texas abortion ban becomes law; U.S. Supreme Court opts not to intervene, for now

(The Center Square) – A bill that bans abortion in the state of Texas at about six weeks after conception went into effect on Wednesday.

The new law requires doctors to first determine if a heartbeat can be detected before attempting to perform any abortion-related procedure. If a heartbeat is detected, the law prohibits doctors from performing or inducing an abortion.

The U.S. Supreme Court has yet to respond to an emergency petition filed with the court, which it can do at any time.

On Monday, a trial court hearing scheduled for a lawsuit filed by abortion providers to block the law from going into effect was canceled after a 5th Circuit Court ruling was issued Friday.

Last week, the state had appealed a lower court’s ruling that had blocked the law from going into effect, arguing the government officials sued have sovereign immunity. The 5th Circuit’s ruling set off a series of political and legal maneuvering and the plaintiffs ran out of time, scrambling to file an emergency petition with the U.S. Supreme Court.

“It’s pretty uncommon for plaintiffs to seek emergency relief from the Supreme Court because most cases on appeal don’t involve an imminent deadline or emergency situation,” Robert Henneke, general counsel at the Texas Public Policy Foundation, told The Center Square.

Because trial court proceedings were stayed, a district judge in an Austin court chosen by the plaintiffs was blocked from granting a preliminary injunction the plaintiffs anticipated they would receive before Sept. 1.

The 5th Circuit on Sunday also rejected their request to temporarily block the law from taking effect.

While Justice Samuel Alito presides over the 5th Circuit and would usually respond to circuit requests individually, it’s likely the case will be brought before the full court to vote. Nine justices will either approve or reject the injunction requested by the plaintiffs. They can choose to vote on this at any time regardless of the law going into effect Sept. 1.

In their filing with the Supreme Court, the plaintiffs argued the Texas law would “immediately and catastrophically reduce abortion access in Texas,” thereby violating Roe v. Wade.

Opponents to the law argue the heartbeat bill will halt the majority of abortions from being performed in the state. Roughly 85% of abortions are performed after six weeks of pregnancy, about the time that a heartbeat is detected.

Unlike other states’ heartbeat bills that have been blocked in courts, the Texas law allows private citizens – and not solely Texas residents – to sue doctors, clinics, and anyone assisting with the abortion who violate the law. The bill was modeled on local ordinances, which have won in court after localities were sued by Planned Parenthood.

Sen. Bryan Hughes, R-Mineola, introduced the bill, Senate Bill 8, which passed the Texas Senate by a vote of 18-12 and the Texas House by a vote of 83-64.

Gov. Greg Abbott signed the bill into law in May, and more than 20 abortion groups sued shortly thereafter.

Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights, one of 20 plaintiffs, said in a statement that the center filed an emergency motion with the Supreme Court “to block this law before clinics are forced to turn patients away.”

Texas Right to Life Legislative Director John Seago said their lawsuit is invalid and was “a last, desperate option” to block the bill from taking effect Wednesday.

At issue is whether or not the Texas law goes into effect or is put on hold while the lawsuit continues. If the Supreme Court does not grant the injunction, the law goes into effect. If it grants the injunction, the law is put on hold until the 5th Circuit resolves the issue of sovereign immunity.

The 5th Circuit is ultimately expected to rule in favor of the state’s argument on sovereign immunity. Once the law likely goes into effect, Texas would have one of, if not the, strictest abortion laws in the U.S.

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