The U.S. Supreme Court ruled Friday to allow federal court challenges against Texas’ restrictive and unusual abortion ban, but also decided to allow the law to remain in effect while those challenges are considered.
Key votes were cast by conservative justices Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett, who both previously voted to allow the law to go into effect but signaled some apprehension about the law’s potential to set a wider precedent during a Nov. 1 hearing.
At that hearing, abortion providers and the Justice Department aired their grievances with the Texas legislation, which went into effect Sept. 1 and effectively bans abortion at six weeks of pregnancy. At issue before the justices was the law’s enforcement mechanism, which deputizes private citizens, not the state, to enforce it and offers a $10,000 bounty to anyone who successfully sues someone for “aiding or abetting” patients violating the law.
That element of the law has successfully shielded the state from lawsuits over the ban and allowed it to remain in effect despite clear conflict with abortion protections established by Roe v. Wade.
It’s a “loophole that’s been exploited,” Kavanaugh said at the Nov. 1 hearing, pointing to concerns that the same mechanism could be used to shield gun control measures from lawsuits.
Barrett raised concerns that the law prevented abortion providers from exercising a “full constitutional defense.”
During the months the law has been in effect, Texas patients seeking abortions more than six weeks into term ― a period when many women do not even know they’re pregnant ― have been forced to travel out of the state for care, often spending hundreds of dollars on transportation, accommodations and other travel costs to have the procedure.
The law’s success, however, has prompted other states to introduce copycat bills with similar enforcement language.