While the Supreme Court did not outright dismiss the lawsuit, it is now almost certain to be dismissed in the coming weeks.
The Texas Supreme Court has effectively killed abortion clinics’ lawsuit against a recently enacted state law that allows private citizens to sue abortion providers.
The New York Times reports that Texas’s heavily conservative justices said the wording of the statute—sometimes referred to as Senate Bill 8—had tied their hands.
While the bench agreed that Texas’s medical licensing authority has the authority to discipline providers who run afoul of other abortion restrictions, they opined that S.B. 8 intentionally limits both the government’s ability to enforce abortion restrictions—and the court’s power to intervene.
“We conclude that the Heartbeat Act expressly provides otherwise,” the justices wrote, explaining that S.B. 8 does not impose statutory penalties.
Instead, the law simply allows private citizens to file civil lawsuits against health care practitioners and clinics suspected of performing abortion services.
“The act’s emphatic, unambiguous and repeated provisions,” the justices wrote, establish that private civil action is the “exclusive” method for enforcing the law.
“These provisions deprive the state-agency executives of any authority they might otherwise have to enforce the requirements through a disciplinary action,” they said.
“We cannot rewrite the statute,” the justices added.
According to The Associated Press, abortion rates have plummeted since the law passed in September.
The Associated Press notes that, while the Texas ruling was not unexpected, the decision curtails clinics’ right to appeal to the United States Supreme Court.
Marc Hearron, an attorney for the Center for Reproductive Rights, said there is little women’s advocates can do to challenge Senate Bill 8.
“There is nothing left,” Hearron said. “This case is effectively over with respect to our challenge to the abortion ban.”
The clinics involved in the lawsuit said they do not plan to drop their claims. However, with the Texas court’s ruling, they expect their lawsuit will be dismissed within weeks.
While the complaint may remain in court—at least for a short while—Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton has already taken to celebrating the victory on social media.
“This measure, which has saved thousands of unborn babies, remains fully in effect, and the pro-abortion plaintiffs’ lawsuit against the state is essentially finished,” Paxton wrote on Twitter.
The New York Times observes that Senate Bill 8 threatens all abortion providers with litigation. Critically, the statute does not offer any exceptions: a clinic could be sued even if it helps a woman who has been the victim of rape or incest.