Supreme Court denies abortion providers’ request to re-route Texas Heartbeat Law to Judge Pitman who blocked state’s six-week ban

By Dave Andrusko

In a one-sentence order (but including fiery dissents), the Supreme Court on Thursday declined to send Texas’ Heartbeat Law back to U.S. District Judge Robert Pitman in Austin. Pitman had  briefly blocked S.B.8. in October  but his order was  put on hold by the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals.

The effect of decision is that the law is “thus likely to remain in effect for the foreseeable future, following a decision by the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans to send the case to the Texas Supreme Court,” according to CBS News.

The narrow issue before the Texas Supreme Court is “whether the state officials specified in the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision last month have the power to enforce the abortion law,” The New York Times Adam Liptak reported.  The Supreme Court, in its December 10th opinion, said the legal challenge could continue but only against Texas licensing officials who oversee nurses, physicians and pharmacists.

“[T]he U.S. Supreme Court threw out most challenges to the law and left only state medical licensing officials as possible lawsuit targets because they can revoke a doctor, nurse or pharmacist’s license if they violated the law,” Eleanor Klibanoff wrote.

The justices who dissented were furious.

Joined by Justices Stephen Breyer and Elena Kagan, Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote “The law immediately devastated access to abortion care in Texas.  …Instead of stopping a Fifth Circuit panel from indulging Texas’ newest delay tactics, the Court allows the State yet again to extend the deprivation of the federal constitutional rights of its citizens through procedural manipulation.”

“I had thought that the Court of Appeals would quickly remand the case to the District Court so that it could reach the merits and enter relief consistent with our ruling,” wrote Justice Stephen Breyer. “Instead, the Court of Appeals ignored our judgment.”

“The ruling all but guarantees that the case’s journey through the court system will be long, delaying the final word on the standing of Texas’ controversial abortion law — and extending the extensive limits on abortion in the state — for months,” wrote the Texas Tribune’s Klibanoff.