A restrictive Texas abortion law has attracted fierce debate in recent months over its provision allowing for civil lawsuits against doctors and others who facilitate abortion procedures.
The U.S. Supreme Court weighed in on the challenge this week, leaving the law in effect for now but without addressing the merits of the case.
According to NBC News, the order dismissed several defendants named by the plaintiffs while allowing the ongoing challenge to proceed against other named defendants.
In an 8-1 ruling with only Justice Clarence Thomas dissenting, the high court allowed a challenge from abortion providers to go forward against four state officials who had statutory authority to take disciplinary action against clinicians who violated the law.
Chief Justice John Roberts sided with the three liberal justices to form the minority in a 5-4 ruling dismissing claims from abortion providers against state court clerks, judges, and GOP Attorney General Ken Paxton.
Writing for the majority, Justice Neil Gorsuch made it clear that the ruling was preliminary and solely addressed pre-enforcement disputes.
He went on to explain that court clerks tasked with filing lawsuits under the Texas law and judges who would oversee such challenges could not be sued by abortion providers since they represent “neutral” actors under the law. Likewise, Paxton was dismissed since there was no evidence that he would play any role in future litigation under the disputed law.
“A solemn mockery”
Aside from Thomas, the nation’s highest court determined that four state licensing officials could face lawsuits and possibly be enjoined from taking action in light of other state statutes allowing them to take disciplinary action against abortion providers.
Roberts was among the four dissenters and declared that the Texas law has the “clear purpose and actual effect” of seeking to “nullify this Court’s rulings” in previous abortion rights cases.
Furthermore, the chief justice insisted that if the law is allowed to stand and other states follow suit by undermining protected rights, “the constitution itself becomes a solemn mockery.”
The court also issued a separate unsigned order dismissing a challenge by the Biden administration, though liberal Justice Sonia Sotomayor confirmed that she would have allowed the case to proceed.
As things currently stand, the Supreme Court’s conservative majority appears to be as close as ever to repealing or scaling back prior precedent on the issue of abortion.