The US Supreme Court has agreed to hear challenges to the Texas law that restricts abortion rights early next month, but will allow the law to remain in place for now.
America’s highest court on Friday set oral arguments for November 1 in two separate cases filed by the US justice department and abortion providers against Texas — paving the way for an expedited review of the law.
The state enacted America’s most restrictive curbs on reproductive rights last month — including a ban on abortion after six weeks of pregnancy — with the backing of its Republican governor and legislature.
The US justice department quickly moved to block the law, arguing that it violated the constitutional right to an abortion established in the 1973 Roe vs Wade ruling. But after securing a temporary legal victory when a federal-district court in Texas suspended the law, the justice department lost the next round when a federal appeals court — the Fifth Circuit court based in New Orleans, which tilts conservative — allowed it to be reinstated. It then asked the Supreme Court to set aside the decision of the appeals court.
In a court filing on Friday, the justice department said the new bill “has virtually eliminated abortion in Texas after six weeks of pregnancy, which the record shows previously accounted for the overwhelming majority of abortions in the state”.
The law prohibits abortion after roughly six weeks of pregnancy, before many women know they are pregnant, without exceptions for instances of rape or incest. It also allows individuals to report people to the authorities for helping women have abortions, and to potentially receive at least a $10,000 payment for doing so.
Legal experts have described the structure of the law as an effort to sidestep Supreme Court decisions that prohibit states from outlawing abortions before the foetus reaches “viability”.
“[Texas] has delegated its enforcement authority to them [private plaintiffs] by statute,” the justice department said in Friday’s court filing.
The Texas attorney-general’s office has said the new measures used “normal, lawful process of justice in Texas” and were not a “vigilante scheme”.
Sonia Sotomayor, a liberal justice, in her dissenting opinion of today’s order that failed to set aside the decision of the Fifth Circuit court, said: “For the second time, the [Supreme Court] is presented with an application to enjoin a statute enacted in open disregard of the constitutional rights of women seeking abortion care in Texas. For the second time, the Court declines to act immediately to protect these women from grave and irreparable harm”.
The Supreme Court, which is split 6-3 between conservative and liberal justices, had previously declined to block the law shortly after it took effect last month.
The case has raised concerns among some legal scholars, activists and Democratic lawmakers that the justices could eventually overturn the legal precedent set by Roe vs Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision that paved the way for legal abortion nationwide.