WASHINGTON — Abortion providers in Texas returned to the Supreme Court on Thursday, asking for quick action in taking up a challenge to the state's restrictive new law banning abortion after about six weeks of pregnancy.
By a vote of 5-4, the court declined this month to block the law while a lawsuit worked its way through the lower courts, citing complicated questions about whether the federal courts have the jurisdiction to consider it. Now the opponents of the law are asking the court to put the case on a fast track by taking it up while it is still pending before the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, based in New Orleans.
"Intervention by the Supreme Court is urgently needed, because despite the great harm the ban is causing, the Fifth Circuit has set a schedule that will not allow the appeal to be heard before December," said the challengers, led by Planned Parenthood, the American Civil Liberties Union, the Center for Reproductive Rights and a Texas abortion clinic.
Such a legal request to leapfrog over the lower courts is seldom granted.
The Texas law allows private lawsuits against abortion providers or anyone who plays a role in the procedure. The prospect of lawsuits has shut down abortion clinics in the state. But the design of the law, taking enforcement away from state officials, makes it difficult to challenge in court.
In their appeal, the groups said the Supreme Court should decide whether a state can construct a law to insulate it from federal court review by delegating enforcement to the general public.
"We need this case to move as quickly as possible. Right now, parents are being forced to travel hundreds of miles in the middle of a pandemic to find abortion care" outside the state, said Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights. "But many people can't afford to do that."
The challengers said the appeals court has agreed to move the case quickly but will not hear courtroom argument until December at the earliest. "Meanwhile, Texans are in crisis," they said.