Court Battles

Sotomayor on court's refusal to block Texas abortion law: 'Catastrophic'

Supreme Court Justice Sonya Sotomayor called the high court's refusal to once again block Texas's six-week abortion law "catastrophic."

The court agreed to review Senate Bill 8 on an expedited basis in response to legal challenges from the Justice Department and abortion providers on Nov. 1. However, the court did not halt enforcement of the law.

In a seven-page opinion, Sotomayor said she "cannot capture the totality of this harm in these pages."

"But as these excerpts illustrate, the State (empowered by this Court's inaction) has so thoroughly chilled the exercise of the right recognized in Roe as to nearly suspend it within its borders and strain access to it in other States," Sotomayor wrote. "The State's gambit has worked. The impact is catastrophic."

S.B. 8 went into effect early last month when the high court declined to take up an emergency challenge from abortion providers to block the bill.

The measure bans abortions when a fetal heartbeat is detected, which normally occurs around six weeks. The law further allows private citizens to sue those who performed or "aided and abetted" in an abortion in violation of the law, and allows at least $10,000 for successful cases.

Sotomayor explained that while she agreed with the court's decision to hear the cases on an expedited basis, she would have halted the law from being enforced.

The justice explained that there are women who became pregnant when S.B. 8 took effect, and "as I write these words, some of those women do not know they are pregnant."

The justice explained that those with sufficient resources may seek abortions from out-of-state providers who cannot serve their own communities due to demand from Texas patients. Others who cannot travel may be forced to carry out their pregnancy or "resort to dangerous methods of self-help," Sotomayor wrote.

"None of this is seriously in dispute. These circumstances are exceptional. Women seeking abortion care in Texas are entitled to relief from this Court now," Sotomayor wrote. "Because of the Court's failure to act today, that relief, if it comes, will be too late for many."

--Updated on Oct. 24 at 5:37 a.m.

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