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Supreme Court allows Texas law banning abortion at six weeks

The court refused to block the state’s controversial law.

Supreme Court Getty Images

The Supreme Court refused to block a controversial law in Texas that bans abortions after six weeks of pregnancy. Late on Wednesday night (Sept. 1), the court voted 5-4 to deny an emergency appeal filed by abortion providers and women’s health advocates to block enforcement of the ban.

Besides prohibiting abortions once a fetal heartbeat can be detected, which is usually around six weeks and before many women know they’re pregnant, the law also allows citizens to sue abortion providers and anyone who helps a woman get an abortion in violation of the ban. Unlike previous abortion laws, this puts enforcement of the ban in the control of private citizens, who would be awarded at least $10,000 if successful.

In its decision, the court’s majority said those protesting the ban had not met the high burden required for a stay of the law, but did leave the door open for it to be challenged again in the future.

“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’ 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 and the court’s three liberal justices disagreed, writing that the ban violates the constitutional right established by Roe v. Wade.

“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,” Justice Sonia Sotomayor said of the court’s decision.

Justice Elena Kagan also called the ban “patently unconstitutional” and said it allows “private parties to carry out unconstitutional restrictions on the state’s behalf.”

Responding to the Supreme Court’s decision on Thursday (Sept. 2), Center for Reproductive Rights President Nancy Northup said the organization will “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,” she said in a statement. “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.”

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