In a victory for Pro-Life groups, the Supreme Court of the United States did not strike down Texas’ Heartbeat Act (SB 8) last week. The law limits abortions to before the first heartbeat is detected, which can occur as early as six weeks. While the law allows for abortion in cases when the mother’s life is in danger, it bans nearly all abortions, since 85-90% of abortions in Texas happen after the sixth week of pregnancy.
13 other states have tried to pass similar laws, but all were struck down. The new Texas law is unique because instead of putting the enforcement mechanism in the hands of the state, it instead hands it to private citizens. Anyone can now sue abortition providers if they perform an aborition after a heartbeat is detected. The woman who elects abortion is never under the danger of a lawsuit, only the abortion provider, as the law states “this … may not be construed to authorize the initiation of a cause of action against or the prosecution of a woman on whom an abortion is performed.”
The vote in the Supreme Court was 5 to 4, with Chief Justice Roberts joining the court’s three liberal members in dissent. The majority opinion was unsigned, and stated that an injunction would not be issued for the law due to the abortion providers who challenged the law not answering the “complex and novel antecedent procedural questions” the law raised. The majority states that their decision “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.”
Each dissenting justice filed his or her own opinion, either asking for a return to status quo ante (before the law went into effect) and to kick it back down to the lower courts to decide in the case of Roberts, or rejecting the majority’s view on the germaness of the unique procedural mechanism in the law.
In Texas SB 8 has already caused a reaction from abortion providers. Three of the four major aborbition clinics in San Antonio have ceased providing aborbitions, and across the state others are following suit rather than risk lawsuits.
The Court’s decision will likely lead other Republican-controlled states to try to pass similar laws, though the Biden Administration is trying to make sure that doesn’t happen. President Biden called the law an “unprecedented assault on a woman’s constitutional rights,” and that the decision required an “immediate response.” The Justice Department launched a lawsuit against Texas on Thurs., in an attempt to try and strike down the law, but it remains to be seen how successful it will be after the Supreme Court’s first ruling.