Ending health care providers’ case challenging a horrific law, the Texas Supreme Court ruled Friday that because state officials do not have the ability to enforce Texas' six-week abortion ban, they cannot be sued. With one of the most restrictive abortion bans in the country, Texas allows ordinary people to file suit against anyone who helps someone get an abortion—whether that be the clinic itself, clinic employees, or even those who transport a person to the clinic.
Instead of leaving enforcement up to government officials, like other states, Texas prohibited officials from enforcing the law and gave the power to anyone else—including people who reside outside of the state—to sue those who violate it. As a result, when taken to the Supreme Court, cases against the law failed. The Heartbeat Act will now remain in place.
"Texas law does not grant the state-agency executives named as defendants in this case any authority to enforce the Act’s requirements, either directly or indirectly," Texas Supreme Court Justice Jeffrey S. Boyd wrote in the unanimous opinion released Friday. Crucially, Boyd explained the issue more fully:
"Senate Bill 8 provides that its requirements may be enforced by a private civil action, that no state official may bring or participate as a party in any such action, that such an action is the exclusive means to enforce the requirements, and that these restrictions apply notwithstanding any other law."
The case went to the Supreme Court after the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals allowed abortion providers to issue a lawsuit against state officials in January. Because state officials claimed they were immune to the lawsuit, the appeals court sent the case to the state’s supreme court to confirm whether or not the state officials named as defendants in the case, including the attorney general and those tasked with doctor licensing, could take action against those who violate the ban.
The Court sided with the state: Abortion providers cannot sue state officials in order to challenge the law. With this ruling, courts have now blocked providers from suing every defendant they had named, meaning abortion providers now have no one left to sue to stop the policy.
"SB 8 will remain in place in Texas for the foreseeable future," the ACLU said in a tweet. "This is a devastating blow for abortion rights in Texas and across the country."
According to Reuters, suing the officials would have allowed reproductive health clinics to overcome “a novel feature that has frustrated their ability to challenge it in federal court by placing enforcement in the hands of private citizens, rather than the state officials.”
While the Texas Supreme Court's ruling focused on the procedural question—not on whether the law is constitutional—the fact remains the abortion ban will continue.
“With this ruling, the sliver of this case that we were left with is gone,” Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights, said in a statement. “The courts have allowed Texas to nullify a constitutional right. We will continue to do everything in our power to right this wrong.”
The ruling comes at a time when other states have passed their own version of restrictive abortion laws. This week Missouri went as far as to ban residents from seeking abortions out of state, Daily Kos reported. GOP dominant states are stopping at nothing to get advances in their anti-life policies.
The case will now return to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Other cases challenging the controversial Texas law are pending.