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Texas anti-abortion law on the grill of the Supreme Court

By sudouest.fr with AFP

Two months after refusing to intervene, the United States Supreme Court on Monday urgently examines a Texas law that prohibits a majority of abortions, even in cases of incest or rape

Nine magistrates, including six conservatives, will question the parties involved in this case for two hours on Monday, with serious human and political consequences. The temple of American law has accepted two separate appeals, brought by the government of Democratic President Joe Biden and by family planning organizations, which ask it to block a law “clearly unconstitutional”.

The text, adopted in May by elected Republican officials from this vast southern state, prohibits abortions as soon as the embryo’s heartbeat is detectable, i.e. around six weeks of pregnancy, when women are often unaware of being pregnant. It provides for a single exception, in the event of a medical emergency.

Several conservative states have passed comparable laws, but they have all been blocked in court because they violate Supreme Court jurisprudence. This recognized in 1973 the right of women to have an abortion and specified that it applies as long as the fetus is not viable or around 22 weeks of pregnancy.

Texas law, however, has a unique device: its application is entrusted “exclusively” to citizens. They are encouraged to file a complaint against any person or organization helping a woman to have an illegal abortion, against a pledge of compensation of at least $ 10,000, if convicted.

” Anguish “

This mechanism complicates the intervention of the federal justice because the Constitution limits “the circumstances in which it is possible to sue a State”, recalls Mary Ziegler, professor of law and expert in legal battles around abortion.

“The Supreme Court created an exception, which allows an official representative of a state to be prevented from applying an unconstitutional law,” she explains. “But Texas law does not involve any official” so plaintiffs have no one against whom to sue.

Seized for the first time on September 1 to prevent the law from entering into force, the Supreme Court had referred to these “new questions of procedure” to refuse to intervene. This position had sparked an outcry on the left. It “causes chaos” and “insults the rule of law”, had particularly stormed President Biden.

On the ground, the clinics, fearing an avalanche of costly lawsuits, have since complied with the new legal framework, so that the number of abortions has halved, falling to around 2,100 in September against 4,300 over the same period. year earlier, according to a University of Texas study.

To recall the human stakes of the case, the organization Planned Parenthood sent the Court 30 pages of testimonies from patients and doctors affected by the law. 16-year-old girl not sure she can get out of state wears “anguish on her face”, single mother who has just ended an abusive relationship is “angry and very sad” that she cannot abortion in Texas, employees “cry after each patient they refuse” …

«Distraction »

During the hearing, however, magistrates should devote themselves solely to procedural matters. Their decision can fall at any time. There are at least four judges ready to block the law: the Three Progressives and the Chief Justice John Roberts who wrote it on September 1. “The question is whether there will be a fifth vote” to shift the majority, Texas law professor Steve Vladeck noted in the Y’all’itics podcast.

Family planning organizations display cautious optimism. “We are confident that the Court […] rejects Texas’ cynical maneuver, ”said Amy Hagstrom Miller, president of Whole Woman’s Health. “We hope the court blocks the law,” added Alexis McGill Johnson of Planned Parenthood.

Even if the court whistles the end of the game in Texas, “it won’t change the fact that it’s probably going to” roll back abortion rights in another case, according to Mary Ziegler.

The high court agreed to examine on December 1 a Mississippi law that prohibits abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy. “This file is the one that the judges of the Court have chosen to dismantle” their jurisprudence, “that of Texas is a distraction which was imposed on them by the conservatives of this state”, estimates the expert.

For Steve Vladeck, it could even serve his image: “If the judges block the law of Texas but validate that of Mississippi, everyone will be angry and they will be able to say that they are not partisan”.

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