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Supreme Court Does Not Block New, Restrictive Abortion Law In Texas


In a 5-4 vote released overnight, the Supreme Court has ruled that Texas can move forward with its new law making most abortions illegal in that state. The law bans almost all abortions after about six weeks of pregnancy. It also allows private citizens to sue anyone involved in helping someone get an abortion after a fetal heartbeat can be detected.

We begin our coverage with NPR's Sarah McCammon, who's been following this closely. Sarah, good morning. This is a significant development. Can you just start by telling us more about the opinion itself?

SARAH MCCAMMON, BYLINE: It is, Rachel. And, of course, this came about a day after the court declined to take action on an emergency request from abortion rights advocates asking them to stop the law. But in an unsigned opinion, in a 5-4 majority, the court says those groups did not successfully make their case on a number of what are essentially procedural questions. But the majority opinion adds that the decision, quote, "is not based on any conclusion about the constitutionality of Texas' law and does not prohibit future challenges to it." So this means that lower courts will likely be asked to weigh in on a variety of questions going forward. Still, for now, abortions are illegal in Texas after about six weeks. There are no exceptions for rape or incest, and that applies to about 85% of abortions that occur after six weeks in Texas. Anybody living in the state, or elsewhere, for that matter, can file lawsuits against anyone believed to provide an illegal abortion or help someone get one.

And, Rachel, I should mention there were some scathing dissents from the court's three liberal justices, who were joined by Chief Justice John Roberts in dissenting. Justice Sonia Sotomayor called the court's order stunning. And she called the law, quote, "fragrantly unconstitutional" and said justices - rather, flagrantly unconstitutional - said justices had, quote, "opted to bury their heads in the sand." And Justice Elena Kagan called the court's decision-making, quote, "unreasoned, inconsistent and impossible to defend."

MARTIN: So this law actually went into effect yesterday before the court weighed in. What's been the situation on the ground in Texas?

MCCAMMON: So we've been hearing over the past 24 or so hours reports of clinics in Texas turning patients away. Some have stopped offering abortions altogether out of fear of being targeted by the lawsuits that are allowed by this law. And all of them have been forced, at minimum, to dramatically scale back their abortion services. As a result, Rachel, some women will likely travel out of state to get abortions if they're able to. I spoke with several groups in Texas that help provide funding for abortions for low-income people and sometimes for travel. Nikiya Natale is with the Texas Equal Access Fund in North Texas. Here's what she said about that.

NIKIYA NATALE: We have to get people out of state. So we're working very closely with our partners. We've been planning with our partners about trying to, you know, strengthen our pipelines to get people out of Texas into neighboring states to get the abortion care that they need.

MCCAMMON: I spoke with another leader of an abortion fund in South Texas who said that it is really difficult for many patients, especially in her area, where you have to drive at least nine hours to get to the nearest out-of-state clinic. So a lot of people just will not have access to abortion in Texas now.

MARTIN: Are there consequences of this decision nationwide for abortion rights?

MCCAMMON: Well, in the country's second most populous state, at least for now, abortion is illegal in most cases, and so much still hinges on the courts. The Texas law is still being litigated. It could very much end up back before the Supreme Court. And there's another abortion case before the court that centers on a 15-week abortion ban in Mississippi. That is before fetal viability. And for decades, the court has said that states cannot prohibit abortion at that stage. But this Texas law goes much farther. And with that now in effect, that precedent appears to have taken a major blow.

MARTIN: NPR's Sarah McCammon, thank you.

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

Rachel Martin is a host of Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
Sarah McCammon worked for Iowa Public Radio as Morning Edition Host from January 2010 until December 2013.
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.