Supreme Court Refuses to Block Texas Heartbeat Abortion Ban but Says Challenges Can Proceed

Michael Foust | Contributor | Friday, December 10, 2021
Supreme Court Refuses to Block Texas Heartbeat Abortion Ban but Says Challenges Can Proceed

Supreme Court Refuses to Block Texas Heartbeat Abortion Ban but Says Challenges Can Proceed

The U.S. Supreme Court on Friday declined to halt Texas’ heartbeat abortion ban but allowed abortion clinics to continue their lawsuit against a handful of state officials in a pair of rulings that drew applause from the pro-life community and concern from pro-choicers.

In a major win for the pro-life community, the justices turned back the Biden administration’s attempt to immediately block the law, S.B. 8, which went into effect Sept. 1 and prohibits abortion if an unborn baby’s heartbeat is detected. The unique law gives sole enforcement authority to citizens, who are allowed to sue abortion doctors who violate the law. The Supreme Court dismissed the Biden administration’s case, with only Justice Sonia Sotomayor dissenting.

But in a narrow victory for the pro-choice community, the justices in a separate case allowed abortion providers to continue their lawsuit against four government employees – Stephen Carlton, Katherine Thomas, Allison Benz and Cecile Young – “each of whom is an executive licensing official” who has the power to “take enforcement actions” against abortion clinics and doctors if they violate the law, the court ruled.

Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote the majority opinion.

The result of the two decisions is that Texas’ heartbeat abortion ban remains in effect, although abortion providers now have a narrow Supreme Court-approved legal path to block it.

“We are grateful that the Supreme Court practiced judicial restraint today and stopped the Biden administration’s pro-abortion campaign against the strongest Pro-Life law being enforced today,” said Texas Right to Life director of media and communication Kimberlyn Schwartz. “While we continue to fight for this policy in the lower courts, Texas Right to Life celebrates that the Texas Heartbeat Act will continue saving between 75-100 preborn children from abortion per day. The success of our efforts is embodied by each individual life that is rescued.”

Whole Woman’s Health, the pro-choice group that brought the lawsuit, was less celebratory.

“So, the takeaway from #SCOTUS: We won, on very narrow grounds,” the tweet said. “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.

“We aren’t entirely sure what’s going to happen,” Whole Woman’s Health added. “It’s disappointing that #SB8 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.”

Significantly, the court said its decision impacted only legal technical grounds and did not address whether the law “is consistent with the Federal Constitution.” That issue, the court said, is “not before the Court.”

Ed Whelan, a distinguished senior fellow for the Ethics and Public Policy Center, labeled the Biden administration’s loss a “big and embarrassing defeat for the Department of Justice.”

Whelan called the ruling for Whole Woman’s Health “a very limited victory.”


‘Victory for Life’: Appeals Court Rebuffs Biden DOJ, Sides with Texas Heartbeat Law

Photo courtesy: ©Getty Images/Brian PIrwin

Michael Foust has covered the intersection of faith and news for 20 years. His stories have appeared in Baptist Press, Christianity Today, The Christian Post, the Leaf-Chroniclethe Toronto Star and the Knoxville News-Sentinel.