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The United States 5th Court of Appeals decided on Thursday night that the controversial Texas Heartbeat law passed earlier this year could remain in effect while the law is being litigated in the courts. The one-page decision was supported by a 2-1 majority of the court and dismissed the requests of pro-abortion activists who requested the courts to block the law until the matter gets finally settled in court.
The decision by the 5th Court came after a previous decision by a lower judge on October 6th to give a temporary injunction against the law, effectively blocking it, due to what he called, In his 113-page rationale to block the law, “an unprecedented and aggressive scheme to deprive its citizens of a significant and well-established constitutional right.”.
After Thursday’s decision, the Texas Heartbeat law will remain in force while the current litigations continue, barring a direct intervention by the Supreme Court. The highest court in the nation was also embroiled in the legal fight over the Texas Heartbeat law in early September when it decided in a 5-4 vote against a motion filed by some abortion providers which would put the law on hold.
The Department of Justice sued the state of Texas over the abortion bill back in early September, with the lawsuit accusing the Lone Star state of enacting the heartbeat bill (also called S.B 8) “in open defiance of the Constitution”. Texas Governor Greg Abbot (R) said that S.B 8 has the aim to protect the “life of every child with a heartbeat from the ravages of abortion” and that he was very confident that the courts would uphold the law.
What’s in the Texas Heartbeat bill?
Texas passed the Heartbeat bill into law last month, energizing pro-life activists across the country while causing outrage in pro-abortion circles. The law prohibits any abortion “after detection of an unborn child’s heartbeat”, as the bill also considers that fetal heartbeat “has become a key medical predictor’ that a fetus will survive pregnancy and reach birth. Effectively, this law is upheld by the courts bans abortions after six weeks of pregnancy.
The legislation also created a new enforcement scheme, allowing individuals to file lawsuits against abortion providers who are breaking the law and collect up to $10,000 in damages. By making private citizens a key part of the enforcement of the legislation, the bill would probably overcome the fate of many similar anti-abortion laws around the country, which have failed due to public prosecutors refusing or being prohibited to enforce them due to lawsuits filed by abortion activists.
By outsourcing the enforcement of the law to private citizens, the bill overcomes these challenges. However, critics of the law have characterized the system as one that transforms regular citizens into “bounty hunters”, as Justice Sonia Sotomayor of the Supreme Court wrote when the Supreme Court decided not to immediately block the law after its implementation.
2022 will be a crucial year in the legal fight over abortion
The Texas heartbeat law will surely continue to occupy the headlines over the following months, as the federal court system continues to determine the fate of the law after the lawsuit presented by the Department of Justice against Texas. However, Texas is not the only legal battlefront in America’s eternal war over abortion as the Supreme Court will be hearing arguments in a few weeks in the case against the Mississippi Abortion law, which the Court will decide next year.
The case, called Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, could be a landmark case on the issue of abortion with the Court having the opportunity to override or modify the current abortion jurisprudence significantly. The law in question bans abortions after the 15-week mark, and its defenders have already argued to the Supreme Court that the bench should correct the “egregious wrong” it did in the Roe v. Wade and Casey v. Planned Parenthood decisions that have codified abortion as a constitutional right and that it should be each individual state the ones deciding the legality of abortion, not the federal government.
The Mississippi case will present the first truly major test to the new 6-3 conservative majority in the court after the bench decided to avoid the contentious issue during its first year. All eyes will surely be on Justice Amy Coney Barrett, who was confirmed after the death of liberal Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg in 2020.
Daniel is a Political Science and Economics student from the University of South Florida. He worked as a congressional intern to Rep. Gus Bilirakis (FL-12) from January to May 2020. He also is the head of international analysis at Politiks // Daniel es un estudiante de Cs Políticas y Economía en la Universidad del Sur de la Florida. Trabajo como pasante legislativo para el Representate Gus Bilirakis (FL-12) desde enero hasta mayo del 2020. Daniel también es el jefe de análisis internacional de Politiks.