Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor castigated the state of Texas and her fellow justices on Thursday after the nation’s highest court denied a request from abortion providers to move a case challenging a restrictive abortion law to a district court, calling the decision a “grave disservice to women.”
The Supreme Court on Thursday denied the latest request to step in amid an ongoing legal challenge over Texas’ newly implemented law, which effectively bans abortion after six weeks of pregnancy, when many people don’t even know they’re pregnant.
Abortion providers had asked the court to direct the case back to a district judge who had previously blocked the law after a U.S. circuit court sent it to the Texas Supreme Court instead, where it could be held up in months of legal proceedings.
Sotomayor said the decision indulged Texas’ “newest delay tactics,” time that will only prevent women from seeking medical care as the case wends its way through the courts.
“Today, for the fourth time, this court declines to protect pregnant Texans from egregious violations of their constitutional rights,” the justice wrote in her dissent, joined by Justices Elena Kagan and Stephen Breyer. “The court may look the other way, but I cannot.”
“This case is a disaster for the rule of law and a grave disservice to women in Texas, who have a right to control their own bodies,” she continued. “I will not stand by silently as a state continues to nullify this constitutional guarantee. I dissent.”
At issue is Texas’ highly restrictive abortion law, which went into effect on Sept. 1, 2021, amid outcry from women’s rights advocates and medical providers. The law also deputizes citizens, not the state, to enforce it, offering $10,000 bounties to anyone who sues those “aiding or abetting” a person seeking an abortion.
It makes no exceptions for rape or incest and was particularly drafted to shield the state from lawsuits. The law forces tens of thousands of women who need the procedure to travel outside the state, a prohibitively expensive option for many.
The law has also already prompted other states to introduce copycat bills with similar language.
In her dissent, Sotomayor said the law was drafted “specifically to smother the federal right to choose.”
“Because our precedents are clear that Texas cannot directly ban abortion before viability, the state legislature enacted a convoluted law that instills terror in those who assist women exercising their rights between 6 and 24 weeks,” she wrote. “State officials knew that the fear and confusion caused by this legal-procedural labyrinth would restrict citizens from accessing constitutionally protected medical care, providers from offering it, and federal courts from restoring it.”
The Supreme Court in December threw out many arguments against the Texas law but said a narrow challenge could move forward, although it allowed the law to remain in effect while it did so. Chief Justice John Roberts and the three liberal justices said at the time the district court should proceed with haste, and “enter appropriate relief without delay.”
Sotomayor added Thursday that Texas had gambled the court would not act after the state moved to add months to any legal proceedings, denying women access to abortions during that time.
“That bet has paid off,” she wrote.