Supreme Court Leaves Texas Abortion Law in Place

Damian McNamara

December 10, 2021

This is a breaking news story and will be updated with additional details and perspective as warranted.

In a highly anticipated decision, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled today that the controversial Texas abortion law that restricts the procedure to women pregnant for 6 weeks or less may continue to be enforced, but allowed for state and federal courts to hear challenges to whether it violates the Constitution.

As anti-abortion organizations celebrate and abortion rights groups confer on what the decision could mean for women not only in Texas but across the U.S., there is another, bigger implication as well.

The Texas law generated a lot of controversy, in part, because it took an unusual approach. In authorizing essentially anyone across the nation to file a lawsuit against a woman in the lone star state who seeks the procedure outside the law, or anyone who assists her -- including healthcare professionals, it opens up the potential for similar legal challenges to other Supreme Court rulings on marriage, guns and other rights.

The court refused efforts on behalf of abortion providers and the federal government to overturn the law, but said lower courts should determine the law's ultimate fate. The vote was 5-4, with Chief Justice John Roberts joining the liberal members of the court in dissenting.

The ruling allows abortion rights supporters to sue in state court, where a Texas judge on Thursday ruled the law unconstitutional. He stopped short, however, of issuing an injunction against. Abortion rights opponents have vowed to appeal District Judge David Peeples' ruling.

A Timeline on the Case

The law took effect on Sept. 1, 2021. The day before, the Supreme Court did not act to put a hold on the law as requested by abortion rights organizations. As a result, many Texas women seeking the procedure after 6 weeks traveled to nearby states. On Oct. 25, the Court agreed to hear a challenge to the law by the Biden Administration.

Today's Supreme Court decision to uphold the Texas law contrasts with a general consensus among many legal observers that the justices were receptive to blocking the law, based on questions and issues the judges raised during oral arguments on Nov. 1, 2021.

A separate legal challenge to abortion rights involves a Mississippi law banning the procedure starting at 15 weeks of pregnancy. The Supreme Court justices scheduled oral arguments in that case for Dec. 1, and are expected to issue a ruling in that case in June 2022.

Damian McNamara is a staff journalist based in Miami. He covers a wide range of medical specialties, including infectious diseases, gastroenterology, and critical care. Follow Damian McNamara on Twitter: @MedReporter. For more Medscape Neurology news, join us on Facebook and Twitter.

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