EXPLAINER: Texas abortion law gets Supreme Court arguments

Oct 22, 2021, 4:10 PM | Updated: 4:16 pm

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Supreme Court on Friday allowed a Texas law that bans most abortions to remain in effect for now. But in an unusual move the justices said they want to hear arguments in the case at the soonest opportunity.

Those arguments at the high court on Nov. 1 will help the justices decide whether the law, the most restrictive abortion law in the nation, should be blocked while legal challenges continue.

The law, known as Senate Bill 8, has been the subject of a series of legal challenges since before it went into effect in September, and it made one previous trip to the high court. Except for a brief window when a lower court judge blocked it, however, it has remained in place. That has meant that most women in Texas seeking abortions have been unable to get them unless they travel out of state.

Here are some questions and answers about the law, its path through the courts and what happens next.

WHAT EXACTLY IS THE SUPREME COURT DECIDING?

The challenges to Texas’ law now before the Supreme Court were brought by abortion providers and the Biden administration.

Texas law prohibits abortions once medical professionals can detect cardiac activity — usually around six weeks, before some women know they’re pregnant. That conflicts with Supreme Court precedent, which says states are prohibited from banning abortion before viability, the point at which a fetus can survive outside the womb, around 24 weeks of pregnancy.

The Supreme Court could reconsider those precedents in a case it’s hearing in December, but it hasn’t yet.

As far as the Texas law goes, the way it is written has so far made it unusually difficult to challenge in courts. The question the justices are considering is whether the Justice Department and abortion providers can challenge the law in federal court. Even if the justices decide that either or both can sue, they still must vote on whether to allow the law to remain in effect while the legal challenges continue.

WHAT IS UNUSUAL ABOUT THE SUPREME COURT’S ACTION FRIDAY?

The court is moving at a really rapid pace. Normally there are months between when the court agrees to hear a case and arguments in a courtroom. This time the court has put the parties on an extraordinarily compressed time table to file briefs and prepare for arguments in a little over a week. That suggests the justices plan to make a decision quickly.

In addition, usually the high court only agrees to hear arguments in cases where lower federal courts have decided an issue in conflicting ways. That’s not the case here.

HOW IS TEXAS’ LAW UNUSUAL?

The law differs from similar efforts to restrict abortions in other states by leaving enforcement to private citizens, who can sue doctors or anyone who helps a woman get an abortion. That unique enforcement mechanism has frustrated efforts to challenge it. Usually the state would enforce the law and suing state officials would be the appropriate legal avenue.

THE CASE HAS ALREADY BEEN TO THE SUPREME COURT ONCE?

Yes. Abortion providers brought their challenge before the law went into effect and sought to have the Supreme Court step in to stop it. The court declined in a 5-4 ruling. The justices in the majority said “serious questions” had been raised about the law. But they cited a host of issues, including the law’s novel enforcement mechanism and the fact that no one had yet actually attempted to sue someone under the law for helping a woman get an abortion, as among the reasons they declined to intervene. The majority stressed it was not making any conclusions about the constitutionality of the law.

Liberal justices and Chief Justice John Roberts dissented. Justice Sonia Sotomayor called her conservative colleagues’ decision “stunning.” Justice Elena Kagan wrote that the law was “patently unconstitutional,” and Justice Stephen Breyer said a “woman has a federal constitutional right to obtain an abortion during” the first stage of pregnancy.

WHAT MIGHT BE EXPECTED TO HAPPEN NOW?

The four justices who would have blocked the law in the first place all have raised questions about its unusual structure. It’s not clear if one or more of the conservatives who initially voted to let the law take effect will be persuaded by the administration’s arguments and now vote to halt the law’s enforcement.

WHAT HAS BEEN THE IMPACT OF THE LAW IN TEXAS?

Since the law took effect in early September, providers say 80% or more of abortions previously provided in the state are now prohibited. Texas women have sought out abortion clinics in neighboring states, some driving hours through the middle of the night and including patients as young as 12 years old. The law makes no exception in cases of rape or incest.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

AP

FILE - Samsung Electronics Vice Chairman Lee Jae-yong, center, arrives at the Seoul Central Distric...
Associated Press

South Korea to pardon Samsung’s Lee, other corporate giants

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — South Korea’s president will pardon Samsung heir Lee Jae-yong with a year left on his sentence for bribing a president as part of a massive corruption scandal that toppled her government, the justice minister announced Friday. Lotte Group Chairman Shin Dong-bin and two other top business leaders will be pardoned […]
21 hours ago
Ken Griffey Jr., left, and his father Jen Griffey Sr., walk on to the field before a baseball game ...
Associated Press

Smyly stars as Cubs beat Reds in 2nd ‘Field of Dreams’ game

DYERSVILLE, Iowa (AP) — After the Griffeys played catch in Iowa, Drew Smyly took over. Smyly struck out nine in five scoreless innings, and the Chicago Cubs beat the Cincinnati Reds 4-2 on Thursday night in Major League Baseball’s second annual “Field of Dreams” game. Seiya Suzuki reached three times and Nick Madrigal had three […]
21 hours ago
Associated Press

Cops: Oregon crime ring moved $22M in catalytic converters

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — Police in suburban Portland, Oregon, said Thursday they arrested a crime ring leader responsible for trafficking more than 44,000 catalytic converters stolen from vehicles on the West Coast since 2021. Detectives said they identified Brennan Doyle, 32, as the leader of the operation and searched his Lake Oswego home last week, […]
21 hours ago
A customer pumps gas at an Exxon gas station, Tuesday, May 10, 2022, in Miami. Gasoline prices are ...
Associated Press

EXPLAINER: How is inflation affecting commuting costs?

NEW YORK (AP) — Gas prices have fallen from the record highs they reached earlier this summer, but they’re still much higher than a year ago. And with inflation driving up the cost of pretty much everything else, finding the funds to cover your commute may be increasingly tricky. “Being able to get to work […]
21 hours ago
This photo provided by the Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources shows a large wildfire i...
Associated Press

Large wildfire burning amid drought on Hawaii’s Big Island

HONOLULU (AP) — A large wildfire in a rural area of Hawaii’s Big Island is not threatening any homes, but high winds and extremely dry conditions are making it difficult for crews to contain the blaze. The fire started in the western reaches of the U.S. Army’s Pohakuloa Training Area, which is above the town […]
21 hours ago
In this undated photo provided by Masih Alinejad, Monday, Aug. 1, 2022, Alinejad, an Iranian opposi...
Associated Press

Man arrested near home of Iranian dissident faces gun charge

NEW YORK (AP) — A man arrested in New York City last month near the home of an Iranian opposition activist and writer has been indicted on a weapons count. The indictment charges Khalid Mehdiyev with one count of possessing a firearm, a Chinese-made AK-47-style assault rifle, with an obliterated serial number. Police arrested Mehdiyev […]
21 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

...
Day & Night Air Conditioning, Heating and Plumbing

Ways to prevent clogged drains and what to do if you’re too late

While there are a variety of ways to prevent clogged drains, it's equally as important to know what to do when you're already too late.
...
Dr. Richard Carmona

Great news: Children under 5 can now get COVID-19 vaccine

After more than two years of battle with an invisible killer, we can now vaccinate the youngest among us against COVID-19. This is great news.
...
Day & Night Air Conditioning, Heating and Plumbing

Most plumbing problems can be fixed with regular maintenance

Instead of waiting for a problem to happen, experts suggest getting a head start on your plumbing maintenance.
EXPLAINER: Texas abortion law gets Supreme Court arguments