The United States Supreme Court has refused to block Texas‘ new abortion ban, inflicting a severe blow to abortion rights by upholding the state law, which outlaws the vast majority of abortions.
The ruling represents a watershed moment in the abortion debate, as opponents have pushed to restrict access to the procedure for decades.
The court dismissed an emergency request for an injunction on implementation of the ban, which went into effect early Wednesday and forbids abortion after six weeks of pregnancy, by a 5-4 majority, while litigation continues.
Because 85 to 90% of abortions are performed after six weeks of pregnancy, the law would effectively ban the procedure in Texas, the country’s second-most populous state. It would likely force many clinics to close, according to abortion rights groups.
Chief Justice John Roberts, one of the court’s six conservatives, joined the three liberals in dissent.
“The court’s order is stunning,” liberal Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote.
“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.”
The majority of the court indicated in an unsigned statement that the decision was “not based on any conclusion about the constitutionality of Texas’s law” and that legal challenges might proceed.
According to a Reuters/Ipsos poll, the majority of Americans believe abortion should be legal in the United States. 54% of Americans say it should be lawful in most or all situations. While 36% say it should be illegal in most or all cases.
However, abortion remains a contentious topic, with a majority of Democrats favoring it and a majority of Republicans opposing it.
The judgment exemplifies the impact of Republican Donald Trump’s three conservative appointees to the nation’s highest court, who have skewed the court even more to the right. Everyone he appointed was in the majority for this ruling.
Since 1973, when the Supreme Court ruled on Roe v. Wade, the momentous decision that legalized abortion statewide, no state has ever allowed such a prohibition.
Texas is one among a dozen states, primarily run by Republicans, that have outlawed the procedure after a fetal heartbeat is found, which can happen as early as six weeks and often even before a woman realizes she is pregnant.
Such restrictions had previously been overturned by courts invoking Roe v. Wade.
In the Texas case, the court’s decision could foretell how it would rule in another case involving a 15-week ban in Mississippi, which has asked the justices to overturn Roe v. Wade.
The court will hear arguments in October, with a decision expected by the end of June 2022.
The Texas law is unique in that it prohibits government personnel from implementing the ban, instead of empowering private residents to sue anybody who performs or “aids or abets” an abortion beyond six weeks, including someone who drives someone to an abortion clinic.
Citizens who win such lawsuits will receive at least $10,000 in compensation.
That system has concerned both abortion doctors, who say they now feel like they have a price on their heads, and legal experts, who say citizen enforcement could have far-reaching consequences if it were employed to address other sensitive social issues across the United States.