Abortion Providers in Texas Can Sue the State, Supreme Court Says

The Supreme Court on Thursday ruled that opponents of a Texas abortion law — the nation’s most restrictive — can sue the state in federal court.

Texas had argued otherwise, claiming that abortion providers could only take legal action after being sued themselves for violating S.B. 8, which bans abortion after a fetal heartbeat is detected, which usually occurs about six weeks into a pregnancy.

The law allows individuals from anywhere to sue anyone who performs or even helps facilitate an abortion, with a potential reward of at least $10,000. But since the law was crafted to allow only private individuals — not state officials — to enforce it, the state itself could not be sued, Texas claimed.

But the court wasn’t convinced by this argument, which in all likelihood was included in the law to try to sidestep the inevitable push-back from abortion providers. Instead, it agreed with the law’s opponents, who argued that state judges and court clerks are “unquestionably connected to the enforcement of this new law; without them, the civil suits targeting the right to abortion could not be litigated, or even commenced.”

The court didn’t weigh in on the constitutionality of the law, and has allowed it to remain in effect. In the meantime, providers have put a hold on abortions, fearing the financial consequences of repeated lawsuits. Patients have thus sought care elsewhere, which, according to Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, is a big plus because it is “stimulating … interstate travel.”

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