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Supreme Court did not block Texas abortion law but allowed further suits to go ahead


A mixed ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court has Texas abortion providers confused and President Biden, quote, "very concerned." Friday, the court again declined to block the law, which bans most abortions in the state after six weeks. But it did allow suits that challenge the law to proceed.

To explain it all, NPR's Sarah McCammon joins us. Good morning, Sarah.


SIMON: Let's begin with the lawsuits that can go ahead. What does this decision say about them?

MCCAMMON: So the court is giving abortion providers in Texas some leeway to bring federal lawsuits against state health officials to try to block enforcement of this law, SB8. So those will proceed, along with legal action challenging the law at the state level. But that still leaves the door open to really just about anyone else who might want to sue them. Because remember, Scott, this law is unusual in that it puts enforcement in the hands of private citizens. And anyone can bring lawsuits worth tens of thousands of dollars against abortion providers or anyone else believed to be in violation.

SIMON: And, Sarah, what's been the reaction to the fact that the ban on most abortions will stay in place for the moment?

MCCAMMON: Well, abortion rights advocates are concerned, of course.

Amy Hagstrom Miller is the president of Whole Woman's Health, which operates four clinics in Texas. Her organization filed the lawsuit that was allowed to move forward, albeit, as we said, in a limited way. But she told me this doesn't feel like a victory.

AMY HAGSTROM MILLER: This leaves us still faced with having to turn away the vast majority of people who need access to safe abortion care from our clinics in Texas. And so it doesn't feel all that different.

MCCAMMON: Meanwhile, groups opposed to abortion rights are praising this decision.

Katie Glenn is with Americans United for Life.

KATIE GLENN: We know from the data that we've seen from September and October of this year that every day that law's in effect, lives are being saved from abortion. So that itself is a win.

MCCAMMON: And she hopes that this latest action is another sign that the Supreme Court may be ready to overturn Roe v. Wade.

SIMON: And just last week, we heard the six conservative justices on the court suggest they're open to overturning that landmark abortion rights ruling in the Mississippi case. That's also at the Supreme Court. How do these two cases fit together?

MCCAMMON: Right. The larger issue looming over all of this is that Mississippi case, which is a challenge to a 15-week abortion ban. That case could overturn existing precedent, guaranteeing abortion rights prior to fetal viability - precedent that this Texas law seems to obviously violate. And a decision in that case is expected next year. Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote in her dissent yesterday in the Texas case, quote, "the court should have put an end to this madness months ago." And the fact that the court has repeatedly now been given opportunities to block this Texas law and has not done so would seem to say a lot about the mindset of the conservative justices.

SIMON: Sarah, this - the six-week abortion ban took effect in Texas months ago. And you've been covering what it means for women there. What do you foresee now that the law will stay in place for the moment?

MCCAMMON: Really, we're going to see more of what we've been seeing since September 1, when this law took effect - women traveling hundreds of miles to seek abortions at clinics in neighboring states and beyond. Those clinics are trying to accommodate everyone. But they say they're struggling to do so. And abortion rights advocates stress that there just is not the capacity to absorb everyone from Texas. I mean, this is a state with close to 30 million people. Even if it were feasible for everyone who wants to travel out of the state for an abortion to do so - which, of course, it's not because of cost and other barriers, like work or child care. So the bottom line is there are women in Texas who are going to have no alternative but to carry pregnancies to term.

SIMON: NPR's Sarah McCammon - thanks so much.

MCCAMMON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Sarah McCammon
Sarah McCammon is a National Correspondent covering the Mid-Atlantic and Southeast for NPR. Her work focuses on political, social and cultural divides in America, including abortion and reproductive rights, and the intersections of politics and religion. She's also a frequent guest host for NPR news magazines, podcasts and special coverage.