Law is Not Enjoined, but a Few Texas State Officials That Have Limited Enforcement Authority Under SB 8 Can be Sued in Federal Court to Enjoin Their Enforcement of SB 8
WASHINGTON – On Friday, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a decision about Texas SB 8, also known as “The Heartbeat Act.” The Texas law is designed to protect unborn children whose hearts have begun to beat, usually at about 6 weeks of pregnancy. The Texas law is unique in that enforcement of the law is largely left to private citizens to sue abortion clinics and doctors to prevent them from violating the state law, and not by state officials through criminal penalties.
The lower federal courts and the U.S. Supreme Court have allowed the Texas Heartbeat Bill (SB 8) to stay in effect while the U.S. Supreme Court considered an expedited appeal by abortion clinics, which raised the question of whether the law could be challenged in federal court because its enforcement is largely left to private citizens and not to state officials or law enforcement.
The Court decided that appeal today, which will allow the law to remain in effect indefinitely, even though the limited state enforcement of the law through professional licensing boards will be subject to challenge in federal court. The Court rebuffed the abortion clinics' claims that they could sue in federal court various state officials, including state court clerks and judges and the attorney general, and private citizens who had not declared an intention to seek private enforcement of the law. The Court also refused to permit federal courts to just “enjoin the law,” which the abortion clinics wanted.
Furthermore, in a stern rebuff of the Biden Administration, the Court summarily dismissed, in an 8 to 1 vote, the Administration's appeal of the lower court's refusal to enjoin the Texas law, in a suit brought by the Justice Department against the State of Texas. The Court thereby signaled that the Biden Administration suit had so little merit that the Court need not consider their appeal.
“The result of the Court's decisions today is largely a victory for the pro-life movement,” said James Bopp, Jr., General Counsel for National Right to Life. “The federal courts will only be able to enjoin Texas professional licensing boards from enforcing the law, leaving lawsuits by private citizens to enforce the law intact. The Court recognized that the constitutionality of the Texas law can be litigated in state court when such private lawsuits are brought, which, of course, is the normal situation, but not through a preemptive challenge in federal court that the abortion clinics were seeking.”
“This life-saving measure has saved an estimated 100 babies per day since it went into effect on September 1, 2021, since lower federal courts and the Supreme Court have so far refused to enjoin it.” said Carol Tobias, President of National Right to Life Committee. “The Court's decisions today will continue to allow the law to stay in effect by recognizing that federal courts have no power to enjoin it, except in the limited circumstance of state professional licensing disciplinary actions. We look forward to this Texas law continuing to save lives.”
Founded in 1968, the National Right to Life Committee (NRLC), the federation of affiliates in each of the 50 states and the District of Columbia and more than 3,000 local chapters, is the nation's oldest and largest grassroots pro-life organization. Recognized as the flagship of the pro-life movement, National Right to Life works through legislation and education to protect innocent human life from abortion, infanticide, assisted suicide and euthanasia.