Texas Abortion Clinics Ask SCOTUS to Block Law Allowing Citizens to Sue Over Procedure

Texas abortion clinics filed an emergency motion Monday asking the Supreme Court to block a state law banning abortions as soon as a fetal heartbeat can be detected and allowing citizens to sue those who go through with the procedure, the Associated Press reported. The law was signed by Governor Greg Abbott in May and is slated to take effect Wednesday after a panel of appellate judges declined to bar enforcement of the legislation.

Fetal heartbeats can be detected as soon as six weeks into a pregnancy, when many women are unaware that they are pregnant, the AP reported. On top of banning abortions at that threshold in a pregnancy, the law allows citizens to sue anyone who aids someone else in getting an abortion.

This could range from doctors performing abortions to someone who drives a woman to a clinic to receive an abortion, the AP reported. People who successfully sue someone who violated the law could receive at least $10,000.

"In less than two days, Texas politicians will have effectively overturned Roe v. Wade. We have filed an emergency motion in the Supreme Court to block this law before clinics are forced to turn patients away," Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights, said in a statement.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below:

Clinics Look to Block Abortion Law
Abortion providers in Texas are asking the Supreme Court to prevent enforcement of a state law that would allow private citizens to sue anyone for helping a woman get an abortion after about six weeks of pregnancy. Texas state Representative Donna Howard, center at lectern, stands with fellow lawmakers in the House Chamber in Austin, Texas, as she opposes a bill introduced that would ban abortions as early as six weeks on May 5. Eric Gay/AP Photo

If it goes into effect, the law would rule out 85percent of abortions in Texas and force many clinics to close, the providers and abortion rights advocates supporting them said in an emergency filing with the high court on Monday.

At least 12 other states have enacted bans on abortion early in pregnancy, but all have been blocked from going into effect.

The law squarely conflicts with nearly 50 years of Supreme Court decisions in favor of abortion rights dating back to the Roe v. Wade decision in 1973, the providers argued in their high court filing.

Those rulings generally prohibit states from regulating abortions before the fetus can survive outside the womb, typically around 24 weeks of pregnancy. The justices are scheduled to hear a major abortion case in their upcoming term that could cut back on or even overturn the Roe decision. But a decision in a case over Mississippi's 15-week abortion ban is not expected before the late spring.

Kimberlyn Schwartz, a spokeswoman for Texas Right to Life, said the court should allow the law to take effect. "It is not surprising that the abortion industry is using their last, desperate option to try to block the Texas Heartbeat Act from taking effect on Wednesday," Schwartz said.

The issue at this point in the Texas case is whether federal courts will keep the law on hold while the legal fight continues. No court has yet ruled on the validity of the law.

The providers filed their emergency appeal with Justice Samuel Alito, who oversees such matters from the three states in the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, Texas, Mississippi and Louisiana. Alito can act on his own or get the full court involved.

Abortion is the latest big issue to come before the justices in an abbreviated way. Last week, the court divided along ideological lines with conservatives in the majority to force the Biden administration to reinstate Trump-era restrictions on asylum seekers and end a temporary ban on evictions for people behind on their rent because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The practical effects of allowing the abortion law to go into force would be enormous, abortion rights advocates said.

If legal abortion care in Texas shuts down, many women would feel compelled to travel long distances to clinics in such states as Oklahoma, Kansas and New Mexico, advocates said. The average one-way driving distance to an abortion clinic for Texas residents would increase from 12 miles to 248 miles.

Abortion providers in nearby states already experienced a surge of Texas patients in the COVID-19 pandemic last year after Texas officials banned abortions on grounds they were nonessential.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott
Abortion clinics filed an emergency motion Monday to block a restrictive abortion law signed by Texas Governor Greg Abbott in May. Abbott speaks during a border security briefing with sheriffs from border communities at the Texas State Capitol on July 10 in Austin, Texas. Tamir Kalifa/Getty Images