Supreme Court ruling threatens Roe vs. Wade; Texas law puts ‘bounty’ on abortion providers

By Kelly Hawes
CNHI News Indiana

Most of us don’t remember what the world was like before the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1973 decision in Roe vs. Wade.

We don’t remember the back-alley abortions or the desperate women throwing themselves down flights of stairs seeking to end unwanted pregnancies.

We might soon be reminded.

The Supreme Court this week voted 5-4 to deny an emergency appeal seeking to block a Texas law that opponents believe will effectively put an end to legal abortions in that state.

The new law allows private citizens to sue healthcare workers, family members or friends who help a patient get an abortion after detection of a fetal heartbeat, something that can happen as early as 6 weeks’ gestation, often before a woman even knows she’s pregnant.

The law makes an exception for medical emergencies, but not for cases of rape or incest.

“In reaching this conclusion, we stress that we do not purport to resolve definitively any jurisdictional or substantive claim in the applicants’ lawsuit,” the justices said. “In particular, this order is not based on any conclusion about the constitutionality of Texas’s law, and in no way limits other procedurally proper challenges to the Texas law, including Texas state courts.”

Justice Sonia Sotomayor called the order “stunning.”

“Presented with an application to enjoin a flagrantly unconstitutional law engineered to prohibit women from exercising their constitutional rights and evade judicial scrutiny, a majority of Justices have opted to bury their heads in the sand, …” she wrote. “The Court’s failure to act rewards tactics designed to avoid judicial review and inflicts significant harm on the applicants and on women seeking abortions in Texas.” Whole Woman’s Health was among the plaintiffs in the lawsuit.

“This is an all-out abortion ban, plain and simple,” Amy Hagstrom Miller, the organization’s chief executive officer, said in a call with reporters.

She said waiting rooms in all four of the organization’s clinics were filled with patients on the day before the law took effect. The organization’s Fort Worth clinic performed the last abortion at 11:56 p.m., minutes before the procedure would have been illegal.

The American Medical Association said the law “interferes in the patient-physician relationship and places bounties on physicians and health care workers simply for delivering care.”

Attorney General Merrick Garland, a man Republicans once refused to seat on the Supreme Court, said the Justice Department was “evaluating all options to protect the constitutional rights of women, including access to abortion.”

The Texas measure is among more than a dozen such laws across the country. The high court will soon hear a case out of Mississippi involving a law that would ban abortion in that state after 15 weeks of pregnancy.

In the immediate aftermath of the Supreme Court’s decision, actress Alyssa Milano weighed in with a tweet.

“Nothing says big government more than forcing pregnancy,” she said.

Milano had gained attention in 2019 when she called on women to engage in a sex strike to protest the increasingly draconian abortion laws popping up across the country.

“Nobody wants to get an abortion,” she told CNN’s Chris Cuomo at the time. “We are all pro-life. But there are circumstances that we cannot avoid.”

Most Americans agree with her.

A survey in May by Quinnipiac University found 57% of Americans believed abortion should be legal in all or most cases. A poll for ABC News and The Washington Post in October found only 24% of registered voters wanted the landmark ruling overturned.

Bill Clinton once declared that abortion should be “safe, legal and rare.” The goal of laws like the one in Texas is to make it virtually non-existent.

The reality, though, is that there will always be women seeking abortions. The question now before us is what will happen when they do.