Supreme Court allows preemptive challenges to Texas Heartbeat Bill

by mcardinal

Lauren Moye, FISM News


The Supreme Court issued its opinion on one of the controversial abortion cases on Friday. In an 8-1 decision, the justices permitted legal challenges to Texas’ Heartbeat Act in the lower court against certain defendants. The ruling also allows the law to remain in effect during the duration of these hearings. 

The legislation in question has been labeled the most restrictive U.S. abortion law to date and prevents abortions after an unborn baby’s heartbeat can be detected, which usually occurs at the sixth week of pregnancy. The law has become a battleground between abortion proponents and pro-life organizations, sparking multiple preemptive lawsuits to determine the legality of the law.

“The Court granted certiorari before judgment in this case to determine whether, under our precedents, certain abortion providers can pursue a pre-enforcement challenge to a recently enacted Texas statute,” stated Justice Neil Gorsuch, who wrote the court opinion for the case. “We conclude that such an action is permissible against some of the named defendants but not others.”

Friday’s decision means that lawsuits can proceed in lower courts, but only against certain individuals like state health board directors over medical, nursing, and pharmacy. They reasoned these individuals can initiate enforcement actions against violators of the law.

The Whole Woman’s Health vs. Jackson decision removes state clerks, judges, or Attorney General Ken Paxton as lawsuit defendants for several reasons, including that they are not considered responsible for enforcing the heartbeat bill.

Justice Clarence Thomas, known as one of the most conservative on the Supreme Court, dissented from his colleagues’ decision. Thomas felt that abortion providers should not be allowed to pursue anybody, noting “The irony of this case is that S. B. 8 has generated more litigation against those who oppose abortion than those who perform it.”

Thomas explained that, according to a Texas state court clerk, only three complaints had been filed for S.B. 8 compared to fourteen abortion opponents who have faced legal action after the passing of the law.

Simply put, S. B. 8’s supporters are under greater threat of litigation than its detractors,” Thomas concluded.

Despite the vote, the more liberal of the justices wrote a dissenting view in their opinions. This includes Chief Justice John Roberts’ view that the “clear purpose and actual effect of S. B. 8 has been to nullify this Court’s rulings.”

Roberts ultimately views the case as a challenge to the Supreme Court’s role with potentially far-reaching effects. He wrote: “The nature of the federal right infringed does not matter; it is the role of the Supreme Court in our constitutional system that is at stake.”

The Justices also voted in favor of dismissing the Department of Justice’s case against Texas. 

This decision puts the highlight on the Supreme Court’s hearing of Dobbs vs. Jackson, a case that more directly challenges the precedent set by Roe vs. Wade. Pro-life critics fear that the ruling on S.B. 8 signals a willingness from the court to rule conservatively on this other crucial case in the abortion debate.

Texas heartbeat law has experienced a tumultuous period since it was signed, including an attempt to have the Supreme Court block it from coming into effect on Sept. 1. The law was still blocked by a lower court judge, only for an appeals court to overturn this decision two days later.

FISM previously reported, “The Heartbeat bill has already saved thousands of lives in the month of September alone. According to a University of Texas study, the number of abortions in Texas last month dropped to 2,100 from 4,300 in 2020.”

In another recent twist, State District Judge David Peeples ruled a day before the justices’ decision that S.B. 8 gave unconstitutional legal standing or “unlawful delegation of enforcement power to a private person” for people uninjured by the breaking of the law to prosecute violators.