Texas Supreme Court ruling effectively ends lawsuits over abortion law

On March 11, 2022, the Texas Supreme Court ruled that state agencies could not enforce Senate Bill 8, bringing an end to the legal challenges that the Supreme Court of the United States had heard in Whole Women’s Health v. Jackson.

Senate Bill 8 is a Texas law that banned abortion procedures after six weeks of pregnancy and authorized private civil right of action related to violations of the law. This meant that private citizens, including citizens residing outside of the state of Texas, could bring civil actions against individuals for aiding a patient with getting an abortion. 

Justice Jeffrey S. Boyd delivered Texas Supreme Court’s opinion. He wrote, “Senate Bill 8 provides that its requirements may be enforced by a private civil action, that no state official may bring or participate as a party in any such action, that such an action is the exclusive means to enforce the requirements, and that these restrictions apply notwithstanding any other law. Based on these provisions, we conclude that Texas law does not grant the state-agency executives named as defendants in this case any authority to enforce the act’s requirements, either directly or indirectly.” 

This ruling meant that agencies, such as the Texas Medical Board and the Texas Board of Nursing, and their heads could not be targeted in lawsuits to stop the enforcement of SB8. Steve Vladeck, a professor at The University of Texas School of Law, wrote that “[t]he providers’ suit against state defendants is now effectively over” following the ruling.

The Texas Supreme Court’s ruling follows the United States Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit remanding a case to the Texas Supreme Court in January 2022 for clarity over several issues raised in the Supreme Court ruling. On December 10, 2021, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled 8-1 in Whole Women’s Health v. Jackson that abortion providers may file suit in federal court against certain Texas executive officials to prevent them from enforcing provisions of S.B. 8 against abortion providers; it further held by a 5-4 vote that the abortion providers cannot bring suit against state judicial officials to prevent private lawsuits from being tried.