WASHINGTON — Texas abortion providers asked the Supreme Court Monday to block a state law that bans abortions in the state as early as six weeks of pregnancy. The law, one of the most restrictive in the nation, will go into effect on Wednesday.
If the Supreme Court doesn’t intervene, provider lawyers said, access to abortion in Texas could largely end.
“In less than two days, Texan politicians will have effectively destroyed Roe v. Wade,” said Nancy Northup, chairman of the Center for Reproductive Rights, which together with other groups represents the providers.
“We have filed an urgent motion to the Supreme Court to block this law before forcing clinics to expel patients,” she said. “Patients will have to leave the state – in the midst of a pandemic – to receive constitutionally guaranteed health care. And many will not have the resources to do so.”
In their filing, the abortion providers wrote that the law would “immediately and catastrophically reduce access to abortion in Texas, block care for at least 85 percent of abortion patients in Texas (those who are six weeks pregnant or more), and probably end up many would force abortion clinics to close.”
Texas law runs counter to Supreme Court precedents, which prohibit states from prohibiting abortion before the fetus is viable, at about 22 to 24 weeks. But it has an unusual feature that complicates efforts to challenge it in court.
Rather than making state officials responsible for enforcing the law, it allows citizens to sue abortion providers and others who help women obtain the procedure. That assistance may include financial aid or giving a woman a lift to a clinic.
The plaintiffs are not required to claim any connection with those they are suing. If they prevail, the law entitles them to at least $10,000 in damages, along with legal costs.
The law, the providers told the Supreme Court, “attempts to replace normal civil litigation rules and well-established federal constitutional rules with distorted versions designed to maximize the abusive and intimidating nature of the lawsuits and to make it impossible.” to defend against it honestly.”
The exclusion of state officials hampered the providers’ efforts to challenge the law in court, as such officials are the usual defendants in lawsuits seeking to block laws. The providers instead also sued all state court judges and the Texas county court clerk, among others.
The defendants argued that abortion providers could only challenge the constitutionality of the law by violating it and putting forward their objections in defense.
A federal judge rejected a motion to drop the case and scheduled a hearing on whether or not to block the bill. But the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, in New Orleans, canceled the hearing.
The challengers said they are at least entitled to a decision on whether the law should be imposed. If the Supreme Court does not act, they wrote, “asylum seekers and thousands of other Texans will be deprived of their basic constitutional rights on Wednesday without ever receiving a decision on their fully informed request for a preliminary injunction.”
The Texas law is one of several attempts to restrict abortions conducted in recent years in Republican-controlled states. In 2021, state lawmakers set the record for the most abortion restrictions signed in the United States in a single year, according to the Guttmacher Institute, which collects data on abortion statistics and supports abortion rights.
The Supreme Court, meanwhile, has become more conservative and now has three members appointed by President Donald J. Trump, who had vowed to appoint judges willing to override Roe v. Wade. The court will hear a major abortion case this fall over a Mississippi law that bans abortions after 15 weeks and poses a direct challenge to Roe.