Statewide NewsTexas Supreme Court Effectively Ends Heartbeat Act Challenge

The court ruled that state licensing agencies cannot indirectly enforce the Texas Heartbeat Act's abortion prohibition.
March 11, 2022
The only remaining question in Whole Woman’s Health’s challenge to the Texas Heartbeat Act was resolved as the state supreme court ruled Friday that licensing agencies may not indirectly enforce the law.

Challenged by an array of abortion providers, the Texas Heartbeat Act prohibits abortion but tasks enforcement not with the state and instead with ordinary citizens who may bring civil action against anyone who aided an abortion except for the mother.

This civil action mechanism enabled the law to survive numerous legal challenges filed against the state government and its officials. Because the government cannot enforce the law, the U.S. Supreme Court held that suit could not be brought against its officials alleging violations of court precedent set by Roe v. Wade and other case law.

Various key defendants such as the Texas attorney general, a judge and a clerk representing the entire court system, and founder of the “Sanctuary Cities for the Unborn Initiative” Mark Lee Dickson were all dismissed from the case.

The U.S. Supreme Court also dismissed the Biden administration’s challenge of the law.

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One question, however, was sent to the Texas Supreme Court: whether state licensing agencies could directly enforce law through revoking physician licenses.

“The Court concluded that the state-agency executives also cannot indirectly enforce the Act’s requirements through “administrative and public civil enforcement actions” against Texas physicians, nurses, pharmacists, and other professional licensees,” reads an opinion summary from the court.

“Those laws grant the state agencies broad authority to enforce other state laws through the professional-disciplinary process, unless other laws provide otherwise, and the Heartbeat Act expressly provides otherwise.”

During the oral arguments, both sides were actually arguing for the same thing, that agencies did not have power to indirectly enforce the abortion ban.

“[W]e 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,” reads the Texas Supreme Court’s opinion. “We answer the Fifth Circuit’s certified question No.”

Per the state Health and Human Services Commission, abortions decreased sharply after the law took effect last September.


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Brad Johnson

Brad Johnson is a senior reporter for The Texan and an Ohio native who graduated from the University of Cincinnati in 2017. He is an avid sports fan who most enjoys watching his favorite teams continue their title drought throughout his cognizant lifetime. In his free time, you may find Brad quoting Monty Python productions and trying to calculate the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow.

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