The Supreme Court issued a ruling Friday allowing Texas abortion providers to sue over the state's ban on most abortions after six weeks of gestation but will allow the law to remain in effect.
The 8-1 ruling, written by Justice Neil Gorsuch, comes more than a month after justices heard arguments over the law, which makes abortion illegal after a fetal heartbeat is detected in an embryo. The law has been in place since Sept. 1 and does not allow exceptions for rape or incest, a facet many against the measure have protested since it was enacted.
"In this preliminary posture, the ultimate merits question, whether S. B. 8 is consistent with the Federal Constitution, is not before the Court. Nor is the wisdom of S.B. 8 as a matter of public policy," the court said.
The case could return to the Supreme Court at a later point. So far, there have not been five votes on the nine-member bench to place the law on hold while the litigation battle continues.
While Texas's law remains for now, the ruling did not directly deal with the legality of the abortion ban. Justices determined that federal courts have the power to review their legal challenge against some of the named defendants.
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"These provisions, among others, effectively chill the provision of abortions in Texas," Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in a concurring opinion, which was also signed by the court's three liberal justices. "Texas says that the law also blocks any pre-enforcement judicial review in federal court. On that latter contention, Texas is wrong."
In a partial dissent, Justice Sonia Sotomayor issued a critique of her colleagues for not placing a hold on the law while lower courts decide on the case. "The [Supreme] Court should have put an end to this madness months ago," Sotomayor wrote. "It failed to do so then, and it fails again today.
Justices also dismissed a similar challenge brought by President Joe Biden's Justice Department in a separate opinion on Friday.
The highest court's opinion comes just one day after District Judge David Peeples of Travis County, Texas, said the law's enforcement mechanisms denied due process and violated the Texas Constitution.
"SB 8 grants to 21 million Texans the power to bring cases without any guidance, supervision, or screening," Peeples wrote in his Thursday order.
Peeples's primary issue with the law regarded its provision allowing anyone to file a suit against abortion providers and other people who "aid and abet" those who are in violation of the law without plaintiffs first providing evidence they have been harmed by such actions.
A ruling on the merits of the Texas law could be delayed for some time, as justices heard arguments earlier this month in another high-profile abortion case regarding a Mississippi law banning abortion after 16 weeks.
In the Mississippi case, the state is also asking the court to overturn the landmark 1973 case of Roe v. Wade, which established women's right to elective abortions and set decades of precedent in the Supreme Court.
Unlike the Texas law, Mississippi's ban lacks the procedural challenges of the Texas case and stands as a test for whether the 6-3 conservative majority on the bench will rule to roll back abortion rights.
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A decision in both cases is expected around or before June 2022.