Texas’ high court on Friday effectively ended a challenge by clinics to a state law that banned most abortions by ruling that state officials, including those tasked with doctor licensing, have no role in enforcing the law.
The Texas Supreme Court ruled that only private citizens, not state officials, can enforce the law known as SB8 by suing anyone who performs or assists a woman in obtaining an abortion after about six weeks of pregnancy.
The U.S. Supreme Court in December had allowed the case to partly move forward against those same licensing officials. The clinics in the lawsuit sought an injunction barring them from enforcing the law, which took effect Sept. 1.
Suing the officials would have allowed the clinics to overcome a novel feature that has frustrated their ability to challenge it in federal court by placing enforcement in the hands of private citizens, rather than the state officials.
The clinics contend the law is unconstitutional under Roe v. Wade, the 1973 decision that made abortion legal nationwide, and that the conservative-leaning U.S. Supreme Court is now weighing rolling back or overturning in a Mississippi case.
Other cases challenging the controversial Texas law are pending.
After the Supreme Court ruled, a federal appeals court in January asked the Republican-dominated Texas Supreme Court to consider whether those licensing officials could indirectly enforce the law by taking disciplinary actions against violators.
Justice Jeffrey Boyd, writing for the unanimous nine-member court, on Friday said the answer was no. “Texas law does not grant the state-agency executives named as defendants in this case any authority to enforce the Act’s requirements.”
While the case now will return to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, during arguments last month, Marc Hearron, a lawyer for the clinics, said a ruling by the Texas court against them would “essentially end our challenge.”
The clinics’ lawyers had no immediate comment.