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Supreme Court ruling on Texas abortion law seen as possible Monday

by Tribune News Service | November 21, 2021 at 4:23 a.m.

WASHINGTON -- It's been almost three weeks since the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments in two challenges to Texas' new law that bans abortion after six weeks and allows private citizens to enforce it through lawsuits -- and many expected a ruling by now.

Justices seemed to indicate they wanted to review and rule on the constitutionality of Senate Bill 8 quickly when they put the case on the fast track in October, setting oral arguments for Nov. 1. On Friday, speculation began to circulate that the court will finally issue a ruling on Monday.

"#SCOTUS set to issue one or more opinions on Monday," Steve Vladeck, UT law school professor and CNN's lead Supreme Court analyst, tweeted Friday. "There is no *guarantee* that we'll get the rulings in the #SB8 cases, but it sure is *likely* that we will."

In the meantime, the Texas law remains in effect, preventing women in Texas from accessing an abortion after fetal cardiac activity is detected, typically around six weeks of pregnancy. This cutoff comes before some women know they're pregnant, and long before the roughly 22- to 24-week mark that five decades of Supreme Court rulings recognize and protect.

"Every single day that SB8 is in effect in Texas is a travesty and an injustice for Texans who need abortion care," said Caroline Duble, political director for Avow, a Texas-based abortion rights advocacy organization. "We are frustrated that the court is taking so long, and we have been frustrated with the way that they've handled this law since the first time it appeared before them."

Anti-abortion groups, on the other hand, are celebrating every day the Texas law remains in effect as a success.

"We're encouraged by the Supreme Court's judicial restraint," Kimberlyn Schwartz, director of media and communication for Texas Right to Life, said in a statement.

Justices have likely been taking their time to issue a ruling on SB8 not because of its early ban, but because of its unique enforcement mechanism. Instead of having the state government enforce the law, Senate Bill 8 gives private citizens the right to sue doctors or anyone else who helps a person obtain an abortion.

The Firearms Policy Coalition, a California-based nonprofit that defends gun rights laws, warned justices in a friend of the court brief that "it takes little in the way of creative copying for States hostile to the Second Amendment ... [to] set up a bounty system with the same unbalanced procedures and penalties adopted by Texas in this case."

There have been relatively few lawsuits filed against providers and physicians under the law. Still, a recent study found that the number of abortions performed in the state fell by half in the first month after enactment of Senate Bill 8, the largest documented decrease of the procedure in recent Texas history.

"Many Texans are being denied access to the care that they need and want," Duble said. "Many Texans are having to scrape together thousands of dollars to travel out of state."

On Dec. 1, the court is set to hear oral arguments on a Mississippi ban on almost all abortions after the 15th week of pregnancy. Arguments in the Mississippi case will likely focus more on fetal viability, as the law poses more of a direct challenge to Roe v. Wade standards and is enforced by state officials.


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