WASHINGTON — A deeply divided Supreme Court is allowing a Texas law that bans most abortions to remain in force, for now stripping most women of the right to an abortion in the nation’s second-largest state.

The court voted 5-4 to deny an emergency appeal from abortion providers and others that sought to block enforcement of the law, which went into effect Wednesday. But the justices also suggested that their order likely isn't the last word on whether the law can stand because other challenges to it can still be brought.

The Texas law, signed by Republican Gov. Greg Abbott in May, prohibits abortions once medical professionals can detect cardiac activity, usually around six weeks and before many women know they’re pregnant.



It is the strictest law against abortion rights in the United States since the high court’s landmark Roe v. Wade decision in 1973 and part of a broader push by Republicans nationwide to impose new restrictions on abortion. At least 12 other states have enacted bans early in pregnancy, but all have been blocked from going into effect.

The high court's order declining to halt the Texas law came just before midnight Wednesday. The majority said those bringing the case had not met the high burden required for a stay of the law.

“In reaching this conclusion, we stress that we do not purport to resolve definitively any jurisdictional or substantive claim in the applicants’ lawsuit. In particular, this order 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, including in Texas state courts,” the unsigned order said.

Chief Justice John Roberts dissented along with the court's three liberal justices. Each of the four dissenting justices wrote separate statements expressing their disagreement with the majority.

Roberts noted that while the majority denied the request for emergency relief “the Court’s order is emphatic in making clear that it cannot be understood as sustaining the constitutionality of the law at issue.”

The vote in the case underscores the impact of the death of the liberal Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg last year and then-president Donald Trump's replacement of her with conservative Justice Amy Coney Barrett. Had Ginsburg remained on the court there would have been five votes to halt the Texas law.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor called her conservative colleagues' decision “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,” she wrote.

Texas lawmakers wrote the law to evade federal court review by allowing private citizens to bring lawsuits in state court against anyone involved in an abortion, other than the patient. Other abortion laws are enforced by state and local officials, with criminal sanctions possible.

In contrast, Texas' law allows private citizens to sue abortion providers and anyone involved in facilitating abortions. Among other situations, that would include anyone who drives a woman to a clinic to get an abortion. Under the law, anyone who successfully sues another person would be entitled to at least $10,000.

In her dissent, Justice Elena Kagan called the law “patently unconstitutional,” saying it allows “private parties to carry out unconstitutional restrictions on the State’s behalf.” And Justice Stephen Breyer said a “woman has a federal constitutional right to obtain an abortion during” the first stage of pregnancy.

After a federal appeals court refused to allow a prompt review of the law before it took effect, the measure’s opponents sought Supreme Court review.

In a statement early Thursday after the high court's action, Nancy Northup, the head of the Center for Reproductive Rights, which represents abortion providers challenging the law, vowed to “keep fighting this ban until abortion access is restored in Texas.”

“We are devastated that the Supreme Court has refused to block a law that blatantly violates Roe v. Wade. Right now, people seeking abortion across Texas are panicking — they have no idea where or when they will be able to get an abortion, if ever. Texas politicians have succeeded for the moment in making a mockery of the rule of law, upending abortion care in Texas, and forcing patients to leave the state — if they have the means — to get constitutionally protected healthcare. This should send chills down the spine of everyone in this country who cares about the constitution," she said.

Anti-abortion groups cheered the court's action.

“We are celebrating this decision for what it is, baby steps in the right direction toward the obvious conclusion that Roe is fatally flawed and must go," said Kristan Hawkins, the president of Students for Life of America, in a statement.

Texas has long had some of the nation’s toughest abortion restrictions, including a sweeping law passed in 2013. The Supreme Court eventually struck down that law, but not before more than half of the state’s 40-plus clinics closed.

Even before the Texas case arrived at the high court the justices had planned to tackle the issue of abortion rights in a major case after the court begins hearing arguments again in the fall. That case involves the state of Mississippi, which is asking to be allowed to enforce an abortion ban after 15 weeks of pregnancy.

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Associated Press writer Paul J. Weber in Austin, Texas, contributed to this report.

Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.

(20) comments

Sabine Strohem

Shame on MAGA. Shame on Texas.

James Martinez

time to pack the Supreme Court. perfect time

Douglas Dasher

The Texas Abortion Law puts our Nation on the slippery slope that the Soviet Union excelled at with neighbors, colleagues, strangers, even those that are not Texas citizens, healthcare workers, and anyone else that wants a reward for curry favor with authorities. Ingenious? No. As Kagan, Roberts and Sotomayor stated – “…unconstitutional.”

rodney carswell

It is indeed a perverse and draconian feature of the new law; as they say "shocking but not surprising", given today's GOP.

Lupe Molina

Just a dumb move for Republicans. They already have dwindling support. The Supreme Court, older and more conservative than the public by its very nature, isn't interpreting laws in a way that most Americans identify with. It just deepens resentment around conservative policies and further guarantees that those legacies will be erased when the current GOPers age out.

In the words of DJ Khaled: you played yourself, GOP.

Mike Johnson

So, any bets on the midterms and control of the House and Senate?

Lupe Molina

Hey! Did you all hear that Republicans are going to put a ton of funding behind birth control to reduce the incidence of abortions? No? Oh they don't support that either? That's how dumb this is. Literally just alienating people at this point.

Robert Fields

Maybe if they let out enough of the crazy, we won’t have to worry so much about all the work they are doing to subvert elections. The silent majority is a bit horrified at all the crazy states like Texas and Florida are letting out. The “Bowling Green Massacre”, Comet Pizza, January 6th, ramming cars into crowds. Playing the GOP hits but just another day in the republican party.

Robert Fields

Here in the comment sections we see the fringe right appropriating “my body, my rights” when anyone says to wear a mask and get the vaccine, but they obliviously cheer limiting what control women have over their own bodies, right Mike?

The people that will be hurt by this law are Texans and soon whatever other crazy jurisdictions decide to mimic it. Women and girls were being made sterile or dying from illegal abortions before and now will again. Women who are desperate will try to get abortions whether it’s legal or not. In a state gobbling ivermectin and hydroxychloroquine, I cringe wondering what “folk cures” for an unwanted pregnancy will be used now.

Once again the far right punishes and even kills their own. Truly the American Taliban. Let’s see those pickup truck parades with all the flags, bibles, and guns! It’s kind of hard to tell a difference.

Mike Johnson

So I take it you are pleased about this law potentially reducing conservatives in Texas? Just like them being anti-vaxxers, anti-maskers, and taking folk cures will kill them off? That does please you, right?

Robert Fields

Unfortunately, Mike, this law will impact people of all political and religious persuasions. You’re not able to separate bad laws pushed on others by religious zealots from people making a conscious choice to endanger their families, coworkers, communities, and even themselves? Really?

You can’t separate them in your mind? You don’t see how they are two very different things?

This law stands to make liberals and conservatives alike miserable, ruin their lives, steal their futures, and even kill a lot of them. I don’t cheer that. You do. It doesn’t please me but it certainly pleases you. You might examine that a bit and ask why it is so important to you to run and run other people’s lives. Some introspection might do you some good.

Charlotte Rowe

ghastly, abusive, misogynistic and ignorant statute.

Mike Johnson

I congratulate the authors of this statute. Very carefully worded to avoid being ruled unconstitutional. From the NYT: "Because of the way the law was written, it may be difficult to challenge in court, representing a sea change in the battle over abortion rights and inviting imitation by other jurisdictions seeking to tamp down access to abortion. The Texas law bars state officials from actually enforcing it, a design intended to make it difficult to challenge in the courts.

Usually a lawsuit aiming to block such a law as unconstitutional names state officials as defendants. Instead, the Texas law deputizes private citizens to sue anyone who performs an abortion or “aids and abets” a procedure. Plaintiffs who have no connection to the patient or the clinic may sue and recover legal fees, as well as $10,000 if they win." Ingenious.

Charlotte Rowe

yup deputizing vigilantes whose noses should be kept exclusively out of ladies' hoohahs is really good, uh-huh. Why do men even pretend to have a right to an opinion on this. It's putrid.

Prince Michael Jauregui

That's one small step for America, one giant leap for Children.

Robert Fields

Until they’re born, though, right? After that, who cares about health care, education, quality of life, or any of the other dignities the far right thinks are problems for society?

Yeah, great leap for the unborn but to hades with them after that…

Prince Michael Jauregui

Mr. Fields, I fast-forward past your rude, generic and tired generalization. Numerous organizations and individuals fighting for the lives of the innocent, also advocate for other urgent social issues.

Be clear Mr. Fields, -as I taught many years-ago: We cannot as a nation, promote a culture of Death, regardless under what premise, and expect a thriving and peaceful society. We cannot plant weeds and expect watermelon, much less lay claim to any moral authority whatsoever.

Especially after the slaughter of over 70-million innocent unborn.

Mike Johnson

[thumbup][thumbup]Well said hermano.......

Ian Fe

Amen!

Lupe Molina

Whatever that means. Read freakonomics.

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