Abortion providers ask Supreme Court to block Texas 6-week abortion ban

Washington — A group of pro-abortion advocates and providers asked the Supreme Court on Monday to block a controversial law in Texas banning abortions after six weeks of pregnancy.

The law, which is set to take effect Wednesday, would be one of the nation’s most restrictive and prohibit nearly all abortions in the state if allowed to go forward, the abortion rights groups warned. 

In addition to outlawing abortion as early as six weeks into a pregnancy, the measure also allows private citizens to bring civil lawsuits against anyone who provides an abortion after six weeks or helps a woman access such procedures, such as a friend who drives a woman to obtain an abortion or clinic staff. Those found to be in violation of the Texas law are required to pay at least $10,000 to the person who successfully brought the suit.

If allowed to take effect, the ban “would immediately and catastrophically reduce abortion access in Texas,” the pro-abortion rights groups, which include Planned Parenthood, the Center for Reproductive Rights, the ACLU, as well as abortion providers, told the Supreme Court. They estimate that at least 85% of women who undergo abortions in Texas are at least six weeks pregnant and warned allowing the law to take effect would force many clinics to close.

“Patients who can scrape together resources will be forced to attempt to leave the state to obtain an abortion, and many will be delayed until later in pregnancy,” lawyers representing the abortion providers wrote. “The remaining Texans who need an abortion will be forced to remain pregnant against their will or to attempt to end their pregnancies without medical supervision.”

Governor Greg Abbott, a Republican, signed the measure into law in May, with Texas joining a dozen other states that have passed laws banning abortions at early stages in pregnancy. Known as “heartbeat bills,” they seek to ban the procedures after a fetal heartbeat can first be detected.

But pro-abortion advocates argue the measures, which have been blocked by federal courts from taking effect, are unconstitutional and violate Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 Supreme Court decision that established a woman’s right to an abortion. The court has found a woman can terminate a pregnancy before fetal viability, which generally occurs around 24 weeks.

Abortion rights groups argue the law in Texas differs from the others because it incentivizes members of the public, rather than state officials, to enforce the ban, and they claim state lawmakers designed the measure that way to insulate it from federal judicial review.

“Texans, like everyone else in this country, should be able to count on safe abortion care in their own state,” Amy Hagstrom Miller, president and CEO of Whole Woman’s Health, which runs abortion clinics, said in a statement. “No one should be forced to drive hundreds of miles or be made to continue a pregnancy against their will, yet that’s what will happen unless the Supreme Court steps in.”

The groups’ request for Supreme Court action in the dispute comes after a federal appeals court in Texas delayed a district court hearing set for Monday and denied their bid to speed up consideration of the case or stop the law from taking effect pending appeal.

If the ban were to become enforceable Wednesday, the pro-abortion rights groups warn that absent Supreme Court intervention, Texas will be allowed to ban abortions after six weeks before it considers a legal battle over an abortion law from Mississippi this fall.

The Supreme Court said in May it would take up a blockbuster dispute over Mississippi’s ban on abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy, presenting the first test of the limits of abortion access before the court’s expanded conservative majority.

In that case, Republican-led states including Texas are calling for the court to overrule Roe and uphold Mississippi’s 15-week ban.