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Texas Supreme Court rules state’s abortion ban laws are legal

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(The Center Square) – The Texas Supreme Court delivered another blow to abortion activists in another lawsuit filed over state laws banning most abortions, ruling they are constitutional.

Justice Jane Bland delivered the opinion for the court on Friday; Justices Debra Lehrmann and Brett Busby filed concurring opinions.

The state Supreme Court vacated a lower court’s injunction attempting to halt Texas’ abortion ban laws, arguing, “the trial court’s injunction departed from the law without constitutional justification.”

After Roe v Wade was overturned in June 2022, all Texas laws banning most abortions, with exceptions, went into effect in August 2022.

The Center for Reproductive Rights, representing several plaintiffs, sued the state, Attorney General Ken Paxton and the Texas Medical Board in March 2023, arguing Texas abortion ban laws violate the Texas Constitution. Among their claims is the laws prohibit doctors from performing abortions if the life of the mother is at risk.

The lawsuit was filed in the 353rd District Court, Travis County, which issued a temporary injunction to prevent the laws from being enforced. Paxton then appealed to the Texas Supreme Court. The high court heard the case last November, and on Friday issued its ruling saying state laws are constitutional.

The ruling was another blow in a long line of losses for abortion activists who for years have sought to stop Texas abortion ban laws from going into effect.

Three years ago, multiple abortion activists attempted to stop the Texas Heartbeat Act from going into effect before and after it passed with bipartisan support and was signed into law in May 2021. Twenty-two lawsuits ensued and were squashed by a March 2022 Texas Supreme Court unanimous ruling and a Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals April 2022 ruling. Next, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v Wade in June 2022, and Texas abortion ban laws went into effect in August 2022.

In addition to the Heartbeat Act, all Texas statutes prohibiting abortion predating Roe that were still on the books and never changed by the state legislature went into effect in August 2022. Paxton published an advisory after a Democratic judge in Harris County issued a temporary restraining order to block pre-Roe laws from going into effect in a lawsuit filed by the Center for Reproductive Rights and others.

The Heartbeat Act, the state’s strictest law, bans abortions from being performed in Texas as soon as a heartbeat of the preborn baby is detected, with limited exceptions. It created a second-degree felony offense for a person who knowingly performs, induces, or attempts an abortion and created a pathway for civil lawsuits to be filed against anyone who violates the law. The law effectively ended most abortions in the state.

The Texas Supreme Court resoundingly rejected the latest arguments made by the plaintiffs. “A physician who tells a patient, ‘Your life is threatened by a complication that has arisen during your pregnancy, and you may die, or there is a serious risk you will suffer substantial physical impairment unless an abortion is performed,’ and in the same breath states ‘but the law won’t allow me to provide an abortion in these circumstances’ is simply wrong in that legal assessment,” Bland wrote.

Her ruling states: “Texas law permits a life-saving abortion. A physician cannot be fined or disciplined for performing an abortion when the physician, exercising reasonable medical judgment, concludes (1) a pregnant woman has a life-threatening physical condition, and (2) that condition poses a risk of death or serious physical impairment unless an abortion is performed. After the United States Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, current Texas law otherwise generally prohibits performing an abortion.”

The Center for Reproductive Rights said the ruling “fails to provide any meaningful clarity on when doctors can perform abortions for dire medical reasons” and dismissed claims of patients who the center argues have “constitutional rights to their lives, their health, and their future fertility.”

“This ruling utterly fails to provide the clarity Texas doctors need for when they can provide abortion care to patients with serious pregnancy complication without risking being sent to prison,” Nancy Northup, the center’s president and CEO, said. She also took issue with the reversal of Roe, arguing the Texas Supreme Court’s opinion “lays bare the cruel consequences of the [U.S.] Supreme Court’s reversal of Roe v. Wade in the 14 states with draconian abortion bans.”

She also said, “exceptions to abortion bans are illusory and it is dangerous to be pregnant in any state that bans abortion. Pregnancy complications should be managed by doctors, not courts and politicians.”

The center “will continue to pursue every available legal avenue to address the suffering happening in Texas,” Northup said.

Paxton lauded the ruling, saying he will “continue to defend the laws enacted by the Legislature and uphold the values of the people of Texas by doing everything in my power to protect mothers and babies.”

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