The justices opinions released on Friday were largely procedural, with a decision in a challenge to a Mississippi abortion law not expected until next year. The court heard oral arguments in that case earlier this month, and it poses a direct challenge to Roe Vs. Wade, the 1973 decision that struck down state abortion laws.
The justices stressed that they were not examining the constitutionality of the Texas law, but advocates on both sides were combing through the rulings for indications of whether the court’s rightward shift will lead to rollbacks in abortion rights.
Texas’s law prohibits abortions after detection of a heartbeat, generally after about six weeks of pregnancy. But it also included a novel mechanism for enforcement, with private citizens given the right to sue providers or anyone who assisted them in the procedure. A state judge ruled on Thursday that such a means of enforcement violated the state constitution.
Whole Women’s Health, the abortion provider and advocacy group challenging the Texas law, issued a statement saying that it was “disappointing that [the Texas law] is so blatantly cruel and unconstitutional and the court has decided not to grant us relief. While we hold out hope for the rest of our lawsuit, the court still failed us today.”
But they also saw in the court’s opinion a victory. “We won, on very narrow grounds. Our lawsuit can continue against the health department, medical board, nursing board, and pharmacy board. We’d hoped for a statewide injunction, but no clear path to it.”
The law’s unique structure created doubt as to how abortion rights advocates could pursue a challenge, given that enforcement was largely put in the hands not of state officials, but private individuals. But the justices said that certain state health licensing officials could be named in lawsuit challenging the law, and that they could be sued even though the law has yet to be enforced against anyone.
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