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Texas Supreme Court unanimously rules against abortion providers in federal challenge to Texas Heartbeat Law

by | Mar 11, 2022

By Dave Andrusko

In a unanimous decision, the Texas Supreme Court this morning dealt a crippling blow to pro-abortionists seeking to derail SB 8, the Heartbeat Law. Opponents have now lost at both the U.S. Supreme Court and the state’s highest court level since the ban took effect on September 1. Estimates are that at least 17,000 unborn lives have been saved.

Under SB 8, abortions may not be performed after the unborn child’s heartbeat is detectable – generally around the sixth week of pregnancy. 

By a vote of 9-0, the court ruled that state medical licensing officials do not have authority—directly or indirectly—“to enforce the law, which bans abortions after about six weeks of pregnancy,” Eleanor Klibanoff reported. 

The decision, written by Justice Jeffrey Boyd, 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.

“This was the last, narrowly cracked window that abortion providers had left to challenge the law after the U.S. Supreme Court decimated their case in a December ruling,” Klibanoff reported.

S.B.8 has been up and down the legal ladder since taking effect September 1. U.S. District Judge Robert Pitman in Austin, the trial judge,  briefly blocked S.B.8 in October. His order was put on hold by the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals which decided that this was a state call best made by the Texas Supreme Court.

“The unresolved questions of state law must be certified to the Texas Supreme Court and further briefing will await that court’s decision on certification,” wrote Judge Edith H. Jones. “This court reasonably seeks the Texas Supreme Court’s final word on the matter, with no limit placed by the Supreme Court’s remand, this court may utilize the ordinary appellate tools at our disposal to address the case—consistent with the Court’s opinion.”

Abortion advocates had originally argued that a whole range of state officials were the ones that actually enforced the law. But “The U.S. Supreme Court disagreed with all of those arguments but one, allowing a challenge against the medical licensing officials to proceed,” Klibanoff said. “That case then went back to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which sent it to the Texas Supreme Court to weigh in on.”

On  February 24, the Texas Supreme Court heard argument from attorneys for the Office of the Attorney General regarding whether any state governmental entity is authorized to enforce SB 8. 

The state’s lawyers said SB 8 clearly states that only private citizens can enforce the law through civil litigation.

“Justices on the Texas Supreme Court agreed, with Boyd writing that the law includes ‘emphatic, unambiguous, and repeated provisions’ stating that civil litigation is the ‘exclusive’ method for enforcing the act’s requirements,’” according to Madlin Mekelburg of the Austin American-Statesman.

Earlier this month, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton offered an encouraging update  of the life-saving impact of Texas’s Heartbeat Law championed by NRLC affiliate Texas Right to Life. According to Paxton’s office, Texas SB8  has saved approximately 17,000 newborn lives since it went into effect on September 1, 2021. Abortions fell by 60 percent in Texas the first month after SB8 took effect.

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