Over the furious dissent of three liberal justices, the Supreme Court on Thursday rejected another attempt by abortion providers to block Texas’ six-week abortion ban.
The court’s order is the latest setback for providers who are trying to revive challenges to the law five months after it was allowed to go into effect, bringing a halt to most abortions in the country’s second-largest state.
The three liberal justices wrote a scathing dissent.
“This case is a disaster for the rule of law and a grave disservice to women in Texas, who have a right to control their own bodies,” Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote, joined by Justices Stephen Breyer and Elena Kagan. “I will not stand by silently as a State continues to nullify this constitutional guarantee.”
Last month, the Supreme Court allowed the controversial law to remain in effect but it cleared limited path forward for the providers to sue a handful of licensing officials in Texas in order to block them from enforcing the law. The court’s ruling was a devastating blow to supporters of abortion rights who had hoped the justices would block the law outright. Instead, the case was returned to the conservative 5th US Circuit Court of Appeals.
The dispute settled Thursday centered on whether the appeals court should immediately return what is left of the providers’ case to a district court judge who has expressed deep skepticism over the law, or whether the case could remain in the 5th Circuit for proceedings that could take months to resolve, further delaying the providers’ case.
The providers asked the justices to step in to demand the 5th Circuit return the case to the district court. Without comment, the Supreme Court’s majority denied the request.
In her dissent, Sotomayor castigated the majority, noting that the law has “devastated access to abortion care in Texas” even though it violates “nearly 50 years of this Court’s precedents.”
“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 said.
The liberal justice also outlined the unusual nature of the novel law that critics say was written with the express intent to make it difficult to challenge in federal court. That’s because the Texas attorney general is barred from enforcing the law. Instead, anyone from anywhere in the country can file suit against an individual who they believe helped a woman obtain an abortion after six weeks.
“Because our precedents are clear that Texas cannot directly ban abortion before viability, the state legislature enacted a convoluted law that instills terror in those who assist women exercising their rights between 6 and 24 weeks,” Sotomayor said.
She said that after the Supreme Court issued its opinion, the case should have landed back at the district court, but instead the appeals court distorted the Supreme Court’s ruling.
“Texas wagered that this Court did not mean what little it said,” she wrote. “That bet has paid off.”
Under most circumstances a justice will end a dissent with the words “I respectfully dissent.”
In Thursday’s order, Sotomayor simply wrote: “I dissent.”
This story has been updated with additional details.