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Federal court ends another legal challenge to the Texas ‘heartbeat’ abortion law


The unique and groundbreaking Texas “heartbeat” abortion law passed one more legal hurdle this week when the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals effectively concluded that the private civil enforcement provisions used within Texas’ heartbeat abortion law is legal and ordered a Texas district court to dismiss the pending suits.

Quick Facts

In March, the Texas Supreme Court ruled that those named in the suit did not have the ability to enforce the law and therefore could not be sued. The Texas law relies on private citizens filing suit against those aiding or abetting an abortion after a baby’s heartbeat is detected. The plaintiffs had argued that government officials could still enforce the law indirectly through licensing boards. 

Initially, a district court blocked the new law on this legal reasoning. However, the Texas Supreme Court weighed and ruled otherwise, writing, “We address in this case a certified question from the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, asking whether Texas law authorizes certain state officials to directly or indirectly enforce the state’s new abortion-restriction requirements. We conclude it does not.”

The Texas Supreme Court essentially found that the heartbeat law barred licensing action.

The Fifth Circuit then ruled, “Having received the ruling of the Texas Supreme Court that named official defendants may not enforce the provisions of the Texas Heartbeat Act… this court remands the case with instructions to dismiss all challenges to the private enforcement provisions of the statute and to consider whether plaintiffs have standing to challenge.”

The Fifth Circuit ruling ends the legal challenge.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott celebrated the ruling, saying that the law is “saving babies every day.” Attorney General Ken Paxton tweeted, “Very proud of my team for bringing win after win for the unborn in Texas! The Texas Heartbeat Act is one of the greatest pro-life laws in the nation, and I’m glad to defend it. Tens of thousands of babies have been saved in Texas because of SB 8 and our victories in court!”

This ruling doesn’t end all legal challenges to the law, only this suit. Texas state Sen. Wendy Davis and other abortion advocates have a case pending challenging the constitutionality of SB8, saying the law lacks due process and denies freedom of speech.

Abortions in Texas have dropped almost 60 percent since its heartbeat law was enacted. While the decline is real, many women opted instead to leave Texas and seek abortions in other states, including Oklahoma, whose number of abortions increased dramatically. Oklahoma has since passed its own complete ban on abortion. While the Texas law has survived this particular challenge, these privately enforced laws aren’t without hurdles. A similar law passed in Idaho has been paused by a court until it can hear a suit against the law.

Some criticize the method used in these laws, yet they were born out of necessity after decades of courts barring states from passing virtually even the most reasonable restriction that would not only protect life but also protect women.

To the abortion lobby: You wanted it all, abortion for any reason at any point in pregnancy, no restrictions. Now states are pushing back because they’re tired of being told that they can’t protect life at any stage because of the whims of an abortion machine which profits off of the killing of children and the desperation of women. Instead of making abortion “safe, legal, and rare,” as you once claimed, you went all in, and now the American people can truly see what you are — not an advocate for women but an exploitative industry that only cares about profit and power.

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