Supreme Court won’t overturn Fifth Circuit’s stay on abortion law

Amanda Voeller

The United States Supreme Court rejected Texas abortion providers’ request to strike down the decision by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, allowing the state to enforce House Bill 2, which providers claim will result in the closure of one-third of all abortion clinics in the state.

In October, the Fifth Circuit ruled to allow Texas to enforce the law at least until the lawsuit’s January hearing. The court overturned a previous ruling by the federal district court to grant a temporary injunction while the constitutionality of the law was determined. 

In the majority decision, Justice Antonin Scalia wrote the court “may not vacate a stay entered by a court of appeals unless that court clearly and ‘demonstrably’ erred in its application of ‘accepted standards.’”

Justice Stephen Breyer dissented with his three liberal colleagues, writing in his opinion that the longer an abortion clinic is closed, the less likely it is that the clinic will reopen. Breyer also said the Fifth Circuit’s agreement to expedite the hearing on the law minimizes the harm that the law would do to the state if it ultimately were declared unconstitutional.

“It is a mistake to disrupt the status quo so seriously before the Fifth Circuit has arrived at a considered decision on the merits [of HB 2],” Breyer said in the opinion.

Planned Parenthood, along with many other plaintiffs, brought a lawsuit against the state of Texas in September, claiming that two provisions of the law are unconstitutional. The plaintiffs said the provision requiring abortion providers to obtain admitting privileges at a nearby hospital and the provision regulating abortion-inducing drugs are both unconstitutional.

Justices Scalia, Samuel Alito, Clarence Thomas, John Roberts and Anthony Kennedy voted against the stay, while Justices Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor dissented.