AUSTIN, Texas — The Supreme Court of Texas has weighed in on Senate Bill 8, the state's near-total ban on abortion that bars the medical procedure once fetal cardiac activity is detected. The ruling, that state licensing boards do not directly or indirectly enforce the law, effectively ends a months-long attempt by abortion providers to challenge the law and leaves it in place.
The challenge about the enforcement of the law made it all the way up to the U.S. Supreme Court. Last December, the Justices ruled against most of the arguments abortion providers brought forward in their case but did allow a narrow challenge about the state's licensing board to advance -- sending it back down to the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals. Abortion providers had hoped the 5th Circuit would send the case to a federal district court, which had previously blocked the law, but instead, the case was sent to the Texas Supreme Court.
On Feb. 24, attorneys for abortion providers argued the state's medical licensing board can take licenses away from those who perform abortions, essentially enforcing the law and therefore, the state can be sued. In their ruling, the state justices disagreed, writing:
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. Based on these provisions, we conclude that 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.
SB 8, the so-called "Heartbeat Act," took effect on Sept. 1, 2021. The law bans abortions once fetal cardiac activity is detected, which is typically at six weeks gestation and before most women know they are pregnant. Under the law, almost anyone can sue a Texas doctor who performs or has an intent to perform an abortion or anyone who aides a woman in receiving an abortion and be awarded at least $10,000. The only exception to the law is for medical emergencies that put a woman's health at risk.
There is no exception for cases of rape or incest. The law does state a man who impregnates a woman through rape or incest cannot file a lawsuit.
Texas became the first state to pass a law outlawing abortions at six weeks. Several Republican-led states are now considering similar bans.
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