“The legal limbo is excruciating for both patients and our clinic staff,” she said. “Lack of access to safe abortion care is harming our families and communities and will have lasting effects on Texas for decades to come. We’ve had to turn hundreds of patients away since this ban took effect, and this ruling means we’ll have to keep denying patients the abortion care that they need and deserve.”
The Texas law was designed to evade review in federal court.
Usually, a lawsuit seeking to block a law because it is unconstitutional would name state officials as defendants. However, the Texas law, which makes no exceptions for pregnancies resulting from incest or rape, bars state officials from enforcing it and instead deputizes private individuals to sue anyone who performs the procedure or “aids and abets” it.
The patient may not be sued, but doctors, staff members at clinics, counselors and people who help pay for the procedure or drive patients to it are all potential defendants. Plaintiffs do not need to live in Texas, have any connection to the abortion or show any injury from it, and they are entitled to $10,000 and their legal fees if they win. Defendants who win their cases are not entitled to legal fees.
The Supreme Court’s earlier encounter with the case left the justices bitterly divided.
In an unsigned opinion in that earlier case, the five-justice majority cited “complex and novel” procedural obstacles to blocking the law and stressed that it was not ruling on the constitutionality of the law.
The majority wrote that its ruling “in no way limits other procedurally proper challenges to the Texas law, including in Texas state courts.” Officials in Texas have said that providers can challenge the law by violating it, getting sued and asserting the law’s unconstitutionality as part of their defense.
All four dissenting justices filed opinions in the earlier case.
“The court’s order is stunning,” Justice Sotomayor wrote in her dissent at the time. “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.”
Understand the Texas Abortion Law
Citizens, not the state, will enforce the law. The law effectively deputizes ordinary citizens — including those from outside Texas — allowing them to sue clinics and others who violate the law. It awards them at least $10,000 per illegal abortion if they are successful.
After the Supreme Court rejected the providers’ request for emergency relief, the Justice Department filed its own challenge to the law, one that it said was not subject to the procedural barriers the providers had faced.