Texas Supreme Court refuses to resume a Planned Parenthood lawsuit challenging new state abortion law

A Planned Parenthood examination room on Planned Parenthood's South Austin location on Jan. 14, 2020.

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The Texas Supreme Court denied a request Monday from Planned Parenthood to resume its lawsuit, filed in a state district court, that challenges the state’s near-total abortion ban.

Planned Parenthood asked the all-Republican court last week to overturn the Texas Multidistrict Litigation Panel’s decision to indefinitely pause its suit alongside 13 other lawsuits filed in Travis County district court. The panel of five judges stopped the cases from continuing at the request of Texas Right to Life, a prominent anti-abortion organization that helped draft Texas’ abortion restrictions.

The suit filed by Planned Parenthood asked the court to declare the abortion law, which bans the procedure as early as six weeks into a pregnancy, unconstitutional. A hearing was scheduled for this month, the organization said, before the panel of judges paused proceedings. In that case, the court temporarily blocked Texas Right to Life from being able to sue Planned Parenthood for potential violations of the abortion law.

“The Texas Supreme Court’s decision to allow the stay to remain in effect is extremely disappointing and will likely deprive Planned Parenthood of its day in court, once again,” Helene Krasnoff, Planned Parenthood’s vice president for public policy litigation and law, said in a statement.

Elizabeth Myers, a Dallas-based attorney who represents plaintiffs for the other 13 lawsuits blocked, said Monday’s ruling was disappointing, but she called the stay a temporary setback.

“We’ll present our arguments and the defendants will ultimately have to attempt to defend SB8 on the merits,” Myers said. “That is something the defendants are obviously scared and unwilling to do, so it’s not surprising that they continue to try to delay it. At some point, their delay tactics will no longer work and our clients look forward to that day.”

These lawsuits are not the only legal challenges to the state’s abortion law, commonly known as Senate Bill 8.

Abortion providers, doctors, women’s rights groups and even the U.S. government are battling to overturn the law in federal courts. A federal appeals court is set to hold a hearing in December in one lawsuit aimed at overturning the restrictions. A federal judge is also expected to issue an order soon on whether to temporarily block enforcement of Texas’ abortion law as part of a U.S. Justice Department lawsuit filed after the Biden administration vowed to challenge the statute.

Also on Monday, the Biden administration reversed a 2018 decision by former President Donald Trump that disallows family planning clinics from receiving federal funding if they provide abortion referrals.

Texas’ near-total abortion ban has been in effect for more than a month, even as abortion providers, doctors, women’s rights groups and the U.S. government have sought to block its enforcement. The statute bars abortions after approximately six weeks of pregnancy, before many know they’re pregnant. Meanwhile, most abortions in the state — experts estimate more than 85% — have ceased, and some abortion clinics have stopped offering the procedure altogether.

The law’s unique structure makes it difficult to block in court. Although abortion remains a constitutional right under Supreme Court precedent, Texas was able to skirt precedent by offloading the enforcement of the statute from government and law enforcement officials to private citizens.

Texas Right to Life applauded the Texas Supreme Court’s decision.

“We are thankful that Planned Parenthood’s attempt to shortcut the normal process of litigation was again denied,” Kimberlyn Schwartz, the organization’s media and communication director, said in a statement.

Disclosure: Planned Parenthood has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune’s journalism. Find a complete list of them here.