The Supreme Court Hears Texas Abortion Law Case

The Supreme Court is reviewing one of its most anticipated cases of its session: the Texas Abortion Law, also know as Senate Bill Eight, which was put in place earlier this year. The controversial law banned abortion after six weeks of pregnancy, before the majority of pregnant women know they are pregnant. 

This law does not make exceptions for any circumstance, including rape or incest. In addition, the law incentivizes private citizens around the US–with a reward of at least $10,000 –to alert authorities if they believe someone they know in Texas has either sought an abortion or helped a woman obtain an abortion after six weeks of pregnancy. Examples of those who could be held responsible for helping a woman obtain an abortion include a healthcare provider, an Uber driver, or a friend helping to fund the procedure. Although the person who had the abortion would not be sued, anyone who helped her access the abortion would have to pay a fine of $10,000.

The Supreme Court is looking at this case not as a matter of constitutionality, but rather as a question of the Department of Justice’s ability to challenge this law. In a New York Times article titled “Supreme Court Hints That It May Allow Challenge to Texas Abortion Law,” reporter Adam Liptak mentioned how the law was intentionally written in a way that would make challenging it on a federal level very complicated and difficult. The article also explains why the law is not being reviewed as it relates to the Constitution. The rulings of two previous Supreme Court cases, Roe v. Wade (1973) and Planned Parenthood v. Casey (1992), demonstrate that there is little-to-no question that the ban is unconstitutional; the rulings from these cases prohibit states from banning abortions before fetal viability at 23 weeks.

Before the law went into effect earlier this month, many abortion providers and women seeking abortions in Texas were confused and afraid. In a Nov. 1 New York Times article titled “Supreme Court, Breaking news, Won’t Block Texas Abortion Law,” Jessica Rubino, a doctor at Austin Women’s Health Center noted, “If this was a criminal ban, we’d know what we can and cannot do. But this ban has civil implications…What happens if everybody is sued, not just me? My staff is nervous. They’ve been asking ‘What about our families?’”

The Supreme Court ruled five to four that the abortion providers did not make a strong enough case to cause an immediate suspension of the law. While the majority opinion was unsigned, all four dissenting justices filed their own opinions. Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote, “The court’s order is stunning. Presented with an application to enjoin a flagrantly unconstitutional law engineered to prohibit women from exercising their constitutional rights and evade judicial scrutiny, a majority of justices have opted to bury their heads in the sand.”

However, this is not the last time the case will be discussed. The New York Times reported, “The Supreme Court’s ruling was provisional. The challenge to the law remains pending in the lower federal courts, and they are poised to sort through the complex issues in the case.”