Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals effectively ends all challenges to Texas Heartbeat Act

Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals effectively ends all challenges to Texas Heartbeat Act

April 27, 2022 0 By Bethany Blankley

The Fifth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals effectively ended all legal challenges to the Texas Heartbeat Act, which several groups attempted to overturn in 22 lawsuits challenging the toughest abortion restrictions in the U.S.

In its Tuesday ruling, the Fifth Circuit said it received the Texas Supreme Court’s March ruling and remanded the case to the district court, instructed it to “dismiss all challenges to the private enforcement provisions” of the law. It also asked the court to consider whether the plaintiffs have standing to challenge the law.

Gov. Greg Abbott said it was another “legal loss for those challenging SB8 – the pro-life law that is saving babies every day.”

Republican lawmakers who voted for the measure praised the ruling.

State Rep. Mays Middleton, who’s running for state Senate, also tweeted, “Another victory for innocent human life, the heartbeat bill continues to save over 120 babies a day!”

Abbott signed the Heartbeat Bill, SB 8, into law last May. It went into effect Sept. 1. The new law prohibits an abortion from being performed, except in a medical emergency, once a heartbeat is detected. It allows private citizens, with some exceptions, to sue doctors, clinics, and anyone assisting with an abortion that violates the law.

Plaintiffs have gone to the U.S. Supreme Court more than once. Initially, the justices rejected the plaintiffs’ request to intervene in September, allowing the law to go into effect. One of the lead plaintiffs in the case, Whole Women’s Health, said the Supreme Court’s decision was an “unprecedented assault” on women’s rights and vowed to fight the law.

Last October, U.S. District Court Judge Robert Pitman halted the law, a decision the Fifth Circuit then overturned. In October, the Justice Department asked the Supreme Court to intervene. The high court allowed the law to remain in place and scheduled a hearing in November. It then heard challenges to the law in two cases.

In December, the Supreme Court again left the law in effect, dismissing several key defendants. It allowed Whole Woman’s Health v. Jackson to continue and sent the case back to the Fifth Circuit with only a few state agencies as defendants. It also rejected plaintiff’s request to have the case heard in the district court.

The Fifth Circuit then asked the Texas Supreme Court to weigh in. Still, plaintiffs fought, and in January, the U.S. Supreme Court again allowed the law to remain in place in order to allow the Texas Supreme Court to evaluate the case.

On March 11, the Texas Supreme Court unanimously ruled that state officials or agencies can’t be sued to proactively block or overturn the law because they aren’t involved in enforcing it. The ruling made the defendants in the case immaterial to the legal proceedings, paving the way for the case to be thrown out. The Texas Supreme Court then returned the case back to the Fifth Circuit.

After the ruling, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick said, “the Texas Supreme Court struck down the Left’s last-ditch, back-door attempt to reverse our Heartbeat Bill. In a unanimous decision, our state’s highest court sided with life and ruled to keep our law in place – saving the lives of future little Texans.”

On the day of the ruling, Whole Women’s Health CEO Amy Hagstrom Miller said, “We have been fighting this ban for six months, but the courts have failed us. All the while our Texas clinics have been open … This ban does not change the need for abortion in Texas.”

She said, “Texans call us in despair, so worried they will be denied the abortion they need. Our clinics are open … If we can’t care for them in Texas because of this ban, we help navigate that care for them elsewhere.” But neighboring states are introducing similar bans, she said, creating “an increasingly dire” situation. “The more states that pass these bans, the harder it will be for anyone in this region to get abortion care,” she said.

The organization has lost 60% of its income after the ban, Public Health Watch reported.

Among the 22 lawsuits filed over the law, 14 were filed against Houston-based Texas Right to Life. It said the Fifth Circuit’s ruling “confirms what Texas Right to Life has known since the beginning: The abortion industry’s legal attacks are meritless.”

The new law “continues to stop approximately 50% of abortions each day in Texas,” it says.

State Sen. Bryan Hughes, R-Mineola, who introduced the bill, maintains, “The Texas Heartbeat Act is the most powerful pro-life legislation in Texas history and will stand as a model for the country.”

NARAL said in a statement, “Abortion bans are always harmful, and they go against the values of the 8 in 10 Americans who support the legal right to abortion.”

This article was originally posted on Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals effectively ends all challenges to Texas Heartbeat Act