Health Law

In 'devastating blow' to abortion rights, top Texas court stymies suit to overturn restrictive law

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shutterstock_Abortion Restriction paper, gavel and stethoscope

Image from Shutterstock. Photo by Jim Block.

The Texas Supreme Court ruled Friday that state licensing officials have no authority to enforce a law banning abortions after about six weeks of pregnancy, apparently foreclosing a lawsuit by abortion providers that seeks to block the law.

The state supreme court ruled in response to a certified question by the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals at New Orleans, which is where the suit landed after the Supreme Court ruled in the case in December. The Supreme Court had allowed the suit to proceed against state officials with authority over medical licenses but not other defendants.

The Texas law relies on the general public, rather than the state, for enforcement. It prevents abortions after a fetal heartbeat is detected and authorizes lawsuits by private parties who may seek $10,000 in damages against anyone who aids abortions banned by the law.

By putting enforcement in the hands of private plaintiffs, the law removed potential state defendants who could be sued in advance to block the law.

As a result of the Texas Supreme Court ruling, no state official remains to be sued.

In a tweet, the American Civil Liberties Union said the Texas law “will remain in place in Texas for the foreseeable future” as a result of the ruling. “This is a devastating blow for abortion rights in Texas and across the country.”

Chemerinsky Related article from “Chemerinsky: Ruling in abortion cases will greatly affect women’s lives but won’t end controversy”

The Supreme Court allowed the 5th Circuit to send the certified question to the Texas Supreme Court in January.

In its decision Friday, the Texas Supreme Court said the Texas law expressly provided that it could only be enforced by private plaintiffs.

“We simply apply the act’s emphatic, unambiguous and repeated provisions,” the state supreme court said.

By enforcing all enforcement methods other than private plaintiff lawsuits, the law “even prohibits criminal prosecutions against those who commit homicide or assault against an unborn child” in violation of the law, the state supreme court said.

The case is Whole Woman’s Health v. Jackson.

Hat tip to Law360 and the, which had early coverage of the decision.

See also: “Supreme Court will hear Texas abortion case on expedited basis but refuses again to block the law” “SCOTUS considers expediting request to hear Texas abortion case, orders quick responses” “Convicted ex-lawyer files bizarre suit against doctor under Texas abortion law” “DOJ explores ways to challenge Texas abortion law; judge grants TRO against anti-abortion group” “How could the DOJ counter Texas abortion restrictions? Law prof suggests prosecution” “SCOTUS formally rejects request to block Texas abortion ban” “Abortion providers ask Supreme Court to block Texas heartbeat law from taking effect” “Conservative SCOTUS justices question abortion decisions but delay action on Mississippi’s viability cert petition” “Supreme Court should uphold precedent in Mississippi abortion case, ABA amicus brief says” “ABA urges Supreme Court to rule US can sue to block unconstitutional Texas abortion law”

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