AUSTIN, Texas – Texas abortion clinics returned to court Friday, weakened in their efforts to stop the nation's most restrictive abortion law after the U.S. Supreme Court last month allowed the state's near-total ban on the procedure to stay in place.
It left only a narrow issue before the 5th U.S. Court of Appeals in New Orleans — whether to send a more limited challenge back to a federal judge in Austin, who has already once blocked the restrictions, or to the Texas Supreme Court. There was no immediate ruling after an hour of arguments, and clinics argue the procedural battle only guarantees the restrictions stay in effect longer.
The Supreme Court signaled last month in a separate case out of Mississippi that it would roll back abortion rights, and possibly overturn its landmark Roe v. Wade decision, in a ruling that is expected later this year.
“What happens then? Is this case alive or dead?" Judge Edith Jones asked about the Texas lawsuit.
Attorneys for Texas abortion providers urged the court to take swift action.
The law banning abortions in Texas once cardiac activity is detected — usually around six weeks, before some women know they are pregnant — has been in effect since September. Since then, doctors say they are serving roughly a third of their usual patient volume, while abortion clinics in neighboring states are backlogged with women traveling from Texas.
Although the Supreme Court allowed Texas clinics' lawsuit against the ban to proceed, five conservative justices formed a majority to limit who can be sued to Texas licensing officials.
Both sides have said that would probably prevent federal courts from effectively blocking the law, which has proved durable because of its novel scheme that leaves enforcement solely up to private lawsuits against clinics or anyone who helps a patient obtain an abortion.