(CNN) – The US Supreme Court left in effect a Texas abortion law banning the procedure after about six weeks of pregnancy, but judges said abortion rights advocates could challenge the law in federal court.
The court’s decision means that the case will return to the district court for further trial, opening the possibility of the law being suspended soon.
The ruling allows abortion rights advocates to challenge the law in court, giving them a slim victory. But it does limit which state officials can be sued, which could make it difficult for providers to perform abortions again after six weeks of pregnancy.
By an 8-1 majority, the court allowed the seller’s appeal to proceed against some state officials, but was split 5-4 on whether other officials could be sued.
Judge Neil Gorsuch said the court agreed to hear the case to see if some abortion providers could challenge the law. “We conclude that such a measure is permissible against some of the aforementioned accused, but not against others,” Gorsuch wrote.
Judge Sonia Sotomayor, writing on behalf of her Liberal colleagues, said the court should have gone further and blocked the law’s entry into force when it had the opportunity in September while the appeals proceedings unfolded.
“The court should have put an end to this madness months ago, before Law 8 came into effect,” he said.
Sotomayor said it was good that challengers could appear in court to challenge the law and hoped the district court would “move quickly” to provide redress.
But, he said, because the court has limited the possibility of prosecuting those responsible, it will make it more difficult to file legal challenges, which in turn could make it difficult for service providers to reopen.
What does court ruling mean?
The ruling on the Texas abortion law is “a precursor to the real major event that judges are now considering,” Supreme Court analyst Joanne Biskubek told CNN.
“It’s the Mississippi case that would really undermine Roe v. Wade across the country, not just in Texas. We won’t see that sentence until June, but now we’re seeing a glimpse of what’s going to happen,” Biskopik said.
The case stems, Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, from a lawsuit brought by abortion providers challenging a 2018 Mississippi law banning abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy. The ban is currently suspended due to lower court orders that cited a current Supreme Court precedent protecting the right to abortion until fetal survival, a point around 24 weeks of gestation.
“Now we see why they took so long to enforce this,” he added.
“We have a split vote…and we have Chief Justice John Roberts breaking away from the Liberals, complaining, you know, about the other defendants who should be prosecuted here. And then we have the three remaining Liberals—[Sonia] Sotomayor, Stephen Breyer and Elena Kagan – they also talked about the fact that the right to abortion in Texas has not been in effect since September 1st.”
Peskobic said Judge Neil Gorsuch, who was previously appointed by President Trump, wrote the main opinion.
“Roberts has always been an opponent of abortion rights. He is not someone you think is trying to salvage the situation for reproductive rights in America. But that just shows how much this court has skewed to the right, which is now in line with more liberal judges,” Biskupik said. And I think that shows a new era of reproductive rights and who’s really going to be in control.”