Texas Supreme Court ends federal challenge to six-week abortion ban
© WikiMedia (James McNellis)
Texas Supreme Court ends federal challenge to six-week abortion ban

The Texas Supreme Court Friday ruled against abortion providers’ federal challenge to a state abortion ban, holding that certain state officials do not have the authority to enforce the law.

Senate Bill 8, also known as the Texas Heartbeat Act, was passed last year. It bans all abortions after six weeks. Rather than being enforced by state parties, it includes a provision enabling private citizens to bring civil actions against anyone who aids or abets a pregnant person obtaining an abortion. Texas abortion providers sued in federal court, asking for the law to be declared unconstitutional and for an injunction against several state officials from enforcing the law.

The state defendants sought to dismiss the suit, arguing that the act does not grant them any authority to enforce the law. The district court and the US Supreme Court denied the dismissal motion and remanded the case to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, which then certified a question to the Texas Supreme Court. The court asked whether the law directly or indirectly authorized any of the named state officials, including the attorney general, to take action against any individuals or entities that violate the law.

The Texas Supreme Court held that the law “does not authorize the state-agency executives to enforce the Act’s requirements, either directly or indirectly.” The court concluded:

    Senate Bill 8 provides that its requirements may be enforced by a private civil action, that no state official may bring or participate as a party in any such action, that such an action is the exclusive means to enforce the requirements, and that these restrictions apply notwithstanding any other law. Based on these provisions, we conclude that Texas law does not grant the state-agency executives named as defendants in this case any authority to enforce the Act’s requirements, either directly or indirectly.

The ruling effectively ends the federal challenge to the law. Texas attorney general Ken Paxton released a statement calling the ruling “a win for thousands of unborn Texans,” vowing that he would “fight relentlessly” to prevent abortions.

The ACLU tweeted that the ruling is “a devastating blow for abortion rights in Texas and across the country.” Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights, called the decision “a moment of crisis” for the rule of law, adding that “The courts have allowed Texas to nullify a constitutional right.”