Upcoming Supreme Court Decisions Will Influence Texas Abortion Rights

One month into the Texas abortion law, the Justice Deparment has been suing the State of Texas while frantically urging the Supreme Court to look at this case. The Texas Abortion Law, called Senate Bill 8 (S.B. 8), signed on May 19, 2021 by Texas Governer Greg Abbot, has been in effect since September 1, 2021. S.B. 8 bans abortions after cardiac activity is detected from the embryo, usually around the sixth week of pregnancy. It allows private citizens to sue clinics providing abortions and any others giving financial help to individuals seeking an abortion for past the sixth week of pregnancy. On September 10, 2021, abortion providers brought a 27-page document to the Supreme Court in an attempt to block S.B. 8. The request was denied in a 5-to-4 ruling, though the decision was never officially signed. The Supreme Court provided a paragraph neither confirming or denying the law’s ban, as the document faced procedural guideline issues. 

Arguments soon arose doubting the legitimacy of S.B. 8, as rules protected by the constitution were seemingly overruled. In 1973, the Supreme Court provided federal protection for abortions in the Roe v. Wade case. The ruling allowed women to access abortions until the fetus could survive outside the womb, which occurrs around the 22nd week of pregnancy. Many believe that Texas’s refusal to revoke S.B. 8 violates the constitution. Similar laws prohibiting abortion have come up in other states, but were ruled unconstitutional because of the Roe v. Wade decision. S.B. 8 has managed to work around the federal law by putting individuals in charge of the lawsuits. 

As a result, Texans must currently cross state borders in order to receive legal treatment for an abortion. Undocumented residents will face more difficulty trying to find abortion clinics that don’t report patients. Pregnancies resulting from rape or incest are also banned from abortions past the sixth week. Moreover, allowing private citizens to sue clinics raises concerns for a “bounty system,” as lawsuits would be filed by private citizens instead of organized communities. Additionally, a $10,000 cash reward is provided by the abortion clinic for individuals who win court cases, and S.B. 8 has also made it so that accusers who lose lawsuits will not be asked to pay for legal fees. People worried whether doctors, financial providers, family, and friends would be sued in the process. However, clinics have been compliant since S.B. 8 was enforced, meaning that no such lawsuits have been filed yet.

Robert L. Pitman, a Federal District Court judge in Austin, Texas, temporarily paused S.B. 8 on October 8, 2021. Pitman’s 113-page brief supported abortion clinics and stated that S.B. 8 was as a violation of human rights in the constituion. However, on October 11, 2021, the three-judge panel in New Orleans stayed Pitman’s ruling, reinstating S.B. 8 back into full effect.

The Justice Department’s efforts to block S.B. 8 hasn’t stopped, as a brief filed on October 18, 2021 was sent to the Supreme Court, urging them to officially put an end to the law. Those in support of S.B. 8 claimed that the law had no effect on the federal government, but the Justice Department argued otherwise since constitutional principles always take priority when conflicts arise between the state and Justice Department. This case has the possibility to change not just the abortion laws in Texas, but abortions across the whole country. The Supreme Court’s decision may affect the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, changing the lives of millions across the United States.

By: Amber Chou