The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Tuesday ended a legal challenge to Texas’ nearly total ban on abortion brought by providers across the state, closing out a contentious court battle that reached the U.S. Supreme Court.
The appeals court dismissed the remaining challenge in the suit after the Texas Supreme Court in March said state licensing officials are not responsible for enforcing the abortion ban and therefore cannot be sued.
A three-judge panel of the 5th Circuit in January asked the state’s high court to resolve this central question to the case, an unusual move made at the request of attorneys for the state that was expected to significantly delay or end the challenge.
Whole Woman’s Health and other abortion providers across Texas originally sued a handful of state officials in an effort to block enforcement of Senate Bill 8, which bans abortion after six weeks of pregnancy. State data show fewer abortions have been performed in the state since the law took effect Sept. 1, even as those seeking abortions have crossed state lines to access the procedure elsewhere.
Attorneys for the state have argued that the state and state officials cannot be sued as a means of blocking the law, because they are not responsible for enforcing the ban.
Under SB 8, government officials cannot enforce the ban. Instead, it allows any private individual to sue abortion providers or people who aid or abet a procedure that violates the ban. Successful litigants can be awarded at least $10,000.
In December, a divided U.S. Supreme Court dismissed all but one challenge in the lawsuit brought by abortion providers. Justices allowed a narrower case, targeting state licensing officials, to proceed in Texas courtrooms.
But Tuesday’s action by the 5th Circuit officially dismisses the case.
“Another legal loss for those challenging SB8—the pro-life law that is saving babies every day,” said Gov. Greg Abbott in a tweet.
Other legal challenges to the law are continuing, including a lawsuit filed by former Democratic state Sen. Wendy Davis and several abortion funds earlier this month. The case, filed in federal court in Austin, argues that SB 8 is unconstitutional and has had a chilling effect for abortion funds and other advocacy groups that help people access abortion services.