US Supreme Court to hear Texas abortion law case on Nov 1

Washington (AFP) – The US Supreme Court agreed on Friday to hear legal challenges on November 1 to a restrictive abortion law passed in Texas, but declined to block the controversial legislation in the meantime.


President Joe Biden's administration and abortion providers are asking the court to overturn the Texas law which bans abortions after six weeks of pregnancy, before most people know they are pregnant.

The Justice Department, Texas and other parties to the case were given until October 27 to file their briefs with oral arguments scheduled before the conservative-leaning court for November 1.

It will be the first abortion case argued before the court since the nomination of three justices by former Republican president Donald Trump gave conservatives a 6-3 majority on the panel.

Abortion providers and the Justice Department say the Texas law violates the landmark 1973 Supreme Court ruling in Roe v. Wade, which enshrined the legal right to an abortion.

The Justice Department had asked the court to block the law known as Senate Bill 8 (SB8) but the panel declined to do so for now and instead agreed to hold an unusually expedited hearing of the case.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor, one of the three liberal justices, filed a dissent saying the court should have moved to immediately block a law that is in "open disregard of the constitutional rights of women seeking abortion care in Texas."

"Every day the Court fails to grant relief is devastating, both for individual women and for our constitutional system as a whole," Sotomayor said.

The Supreme Court last month cited procedural issues when it decided by a 5-4 vote against intervening to block the Texas law, which makes no exceptions for rape or incest. It did not rule on the merits of the case brought by abortion providers.

'Texas Heartbeat Act'

The "Texas Heartbeat Act" allows members of the public to sue doctors who perform abortions, or anyone who helps facilitate them, once a heartbeat is detected in the womb, which usually occurs at around six weeks.

Anti-abortion activists protest outside the US Supreme Court in Washington
Anti-abortion activists protest outside the US Supreme Court in Washington TASOS KATOPODIS GETTY IMAGES/AFP/File

They can be rewarded with $10,000 for initiating cases that lead to prosecution, prompting charges that the law encourages people to act as vigilantes.

The Texas law is part of a broader conservative drive to outlaw abortions across the United States that has prompted a public backlash.

Laws restricting abortion have been passed in other Republican-led states but were struck down by the courts because they violated Roe v. Wade, which guaranteed the right to an abortion until the fetus is viable outside the womb, which is typically around 22 to 24 weeks.

The Supreme Court is already scheduled to hear a challenge on December 1 to a Mississippi law that bans nearly all abortions after the 15th week of pregnancy.

Pro-choice advocates have called on Congress to enshrine the right to an abortion in federal law to protect it from any possible reversal by the Supreme Court.

A bill to that effect was adopted recently in the Democratic majority House of Representatives, but has no chance of passing the Senate, where Republicans have enough votes to block it.