SCOTUS to Hear Arguments on Texas Abortion Ban November 1, Declines for Now to Block Law

The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear arguments regarding the controversial Texas abortion law on November 1, but opted to not immediately block the legislation, the Associated Press reported. The high court's justices announced Friday that they will make a decision on whether the federal government has the right to sue over the law.

The decision from SCOTUS leaves the Texas law in place, for the time being, prohibiting abortions once cardiac activity can be detected—usually around six weeks of pregnancy. The law was enacted in September and has remained in effect since, apart from one brief 48-hour pause after a district court ruled to block the legislation

The number of abortions in Texas has been reduced by 80 percent since the law was put in place, according to clinics. Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote that she would have opted to block the legislation immediately, the AP reported.

"The promise of future adjudication offers cold comfort, however, for Texas women seeking abortion care, who are entitled to relief now," Sotomayor wrote.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

SCOTUS to Hear Texas Abortion Law Arguments
The Supreme Court has declined to block Texas' controversial abortion ban while it awaits arguments on November 1. Above, the Supreme Court building is seen on October 18, 2021, in Washington, D.C. J. Scott Applewhite/AP Photo

The restriction on abortions at roughly six weeks is well before the Supreme Court's major abortion decisions allow states to prohibit abortion, although the court has agreed to hear an appeal from Mississippi asking it to overrule those decisions, in Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey.

But the Texas law was written to evade early federal court review by putting enforcement of it into the hands of private citizens, rather than state officials.

The focus of the high court arguments will not be on the abortion ban, but whether the Justice Department can sue and obtain a court order that effectively prevents the law from being enforced, the Supreme Court said in its brief order.

If the law stays in effect, "no decision of this Court is safe. States need not comply with, or even challenge, precedents with which they disagree. They may simply outlaw the exercise of whatever rights they disfavor," the administration wrote in a brief filed earlier in the day.

Other state-enforced bans on abortion before the point at which a fetus can survive outside the womb, around 24 weeks, have been blocked by courts because they conflict with Supreme Court precedents.

"Texas should not obtain a different result simply by pairing its unconstitutional law with an unprecedented enforcement scheme designed to evade the traditional mechanisms for judicial review," the administration wrote.

A day earlier, the state urged the court to leave the law in place, saying the federal government lacked the authority to file its lawsuit challenging the Texas ban.

The Justice Department filed suit over the law after the Supreme Court rejected an earlier effort by abortion providers to put the measure on hold temporarily.

In early October, U.S. District Judge Robert Pitman ruled for the administration, putting the law on hold and allowing abortions to resume.

Two days later, a three-judge panel of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals put the law back into effect.

The court already is hearing arguments on Dec. 1 in the Mississippi case in which that state is calling for the court to overrule the Roe and Casey decisions.

Texas Law Kept in Place
The Supreme Court said Friday that it would not block the controversial Texas abortion law for the time being. Above, Texas Governor Greg Abbott speaks during a border security briefing on June 30, 2021, in Weslaco, Texas. Brandon Bell/Getty Images