However, abortion rights advocates rely on federal courts as a more effective means of obtaining a final ruling against the law. Friday’s ruling effectively closes the door to such a challenge that the U.S. Supreme Court left open in December, when it rejected an attempt to block state court clerks and judges from accepting private prosecutions under the new law. The ruling said abortion providers may be able to take their legal action against state medical licensing officials over an argument that they have a role in enforcing the law.
The US Supreme Court’s decision in December was something of an enigma, with conservative Justice Neil Gorsuch writing the key opinion that kept the federal court case alive by a tenuous thread. The ruling sparked debate over whether the lawsuit really had a chance to proceed or if the decision was an outright loss for abortion rights advocates. This last camp now seems justified.
In January, a split panel of the New Orleans-based federal appeals court opted to ask the Texas Supreme Court to resolve the question of whether state officials are empowered to take action under of the law. Friday’s ruling said they are not, meaning they cannot be targeted as defendants in a lawsuit in federal court that could declare the law unconstitutional.
“We conclude that Texas law does not grant the heads of state agencies named as defendants in this case any authority to enforce the requirements of the law, either directly or indirectly,” Judge Jeffrey Boyd wrote in the court’s 23-page opinion.
The ruling means the Abortion Ban Act, and the $10,000 bounty it offers to anyone who can prove someone facilitated an abortion that violates the law, looks likely to continue to discourage doctors and other healthcare workers to perform abortions in Texas during the last six weeks of gestation. – before many women find out they are pregnant. The new law has sharply reduced the number of abortions performed at state clinics, resulting in reductions of between 50 and 60 percent, according to abortion rights groups and state statistics. Yet new data shows that thousands of patients circumvent the ban by traveling out of state for the procedure or ordering abortion pills online, undermining claims by ban supporters that it prevents most abortions to take place.
Still, advocates point out that neither option is a panacea, given that many people can’t afford to travel out of state, have already passed the 10-week mark of pill effectiveness. or don’t know how to contact the international. groups that are willing to send patients the drugs in violation of the state ban.
Although no state has yet enacted a copy of the Texas law, a handful of states, including Idaho and Oklahoma, are on the verge of doing so, likely sparking additional legal challenges that could become irrelevant if the Supreme Court overturns Roe vs. Wade later this year and gives the green light to states to ban abortion in early pregnancy.
Courts will likely continue to wrestle with Texas’ private enforcement mechanism, which other states are struggling to apply to other areas of law, including gun control.