WASHINGTON – In the latest setback for abortion rights in Texas, the Supreme Court on Thursday refused to speed up the ongoing court case over the state's ban on most abortions.
Over dissents from the three liberal justices, the court declined to order a federal appeals court to return the case to a federal judge who had temporarily blocked the law's enforcement. The court offered no explanation for its action.
The Texas ban is thus likely to remain in effect for the foreseeable future, following a decision by the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans to send the case to the Texas Supreme Court, which is entirely controlled by Republican justices and does not have to act immediately.
Abortion providers had asked the high court to countermand the appellate order, which they said in court papers has no purpose other than to delay legal proceedings and prevent clinics from offering abortions beyond around six weeks of pregnancy.
The law has devastated abortion care in Texas, Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote. “Instead of stopping a Fifth Circuit panel from indulging Texas’ newest delay tactics, the Court allows the State yet again to extend the deprivation of the federal constitutional rights of its citizens through procedural manipulation," Sotomayor wrote, joined by Justices Stephen Breyer and Elena Kagan. “The Court may look the other way, but I cannot.”
Chief Justice John Roberts joined the three liberals in December in a dissent that called for allowing a broader challenge to the law and a quick return to the lower federal court. Roberts did not note his position on Thursday.
Clinics fear that their challenge to the law might not be resolved before the justices rule in a Mississippi case that could roll back abortion rights across the country. That decision, which could overrule the landmark Roe v. Wade case from 1973, is expected by late June.
The Texas law that bans abortion once cardiac activity is detected — usually around six weeks, before some women know they are pregnant — has been in effect since September. Last month, the high court kept the law in place and allowed only a narrow challenge against the restrictions to proceed.
The providers thought their best chance for a favorable outcome was before U.S. District Judge Robert Pitman in Austin. Pitman issued an order in October blocking the law, though the appeals court put his ruling on hold just a couple of days later.