The Texas Supreme Court dealt a blow to abortion providers Friday by ruling that state officials are not responsible for enforcing the state’s six-week abortion ban and therefore cannot be subjected to such lawsuits.
The 23-page, unanimous decision is a “devastating” setback for Texans, Alexis McGill Johnson, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Federation of America said following the decision.
“Over and over again the courts have failed Texans, who have been stripped of their fundamental right to abortion for more than six months now,” she said in a statement.
Texas’ six-week abortion ban, which went into effect in September, was crafted with a legal loophole that’s allowed it to evade every legal challenge thus far. Instead of requiring the state to enforce the ban, the law deputizes citizens to do so and offers a $10,000 financial incentive if an individual successfully sues a person for aiding and abetting someone seeking an abortion.
Since it went into effect, abortions in Texas have plummeted by more than 50%. Many patients have undergone the expensive endeavor of traveling out of state for the procedure, contributing to an overwhelming demand for reproductive care in Oklahoma and other nearby states.
The decision by the Texas court, which is entirely made up of Republicans, means that abortion providers cannot sue state officials in order to challenge the ban. Officials named in the lawsuit included Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, the state’s health and human services commissioner and the heads of the state’s medical, nursing and pharmacy boards.
“The situation is becoming increasingly dire, and now neighboring states—where we have been sending patients—are about to pass similar bans. Where will Texans go then?” said Amy Hagstrom Miller, president and CEO of Whole Woman’s Health, which was named as the plaintiff in the lawsuit against state officials.
The Texas law has bounced around the courts since it went into effect last year. In December, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that abortion providers could contest the ban in federal court and name state licensing officials as defendants. Plaintiffs asked that the case be sent to a federal district court that previously blocked the law, but the justices instead sent it to the extremely conservative U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit, which finally punted it to the Texas Supreme Court for Friday’s decision.
Other lawsuits seeking to stop private citizens from enforcing the ban may still proceed.