It’s been 82 days since the Supreme Court cruelly sat on its hands and let Texas’ blatantly unconstitutional six-week abortion ban take effect, nullifying Roe v. Wade (or what’s left of it) in the second largest state in the country. The Justices claimed they couldn’t intervene because of the law’s unique citizen enforcement mechanism, which a garbage lawyer cooked up precisely to make it harder to block. And today, the Court once again had an opportunity to block the law, SB8, and took no action. It all feels like a taunt—they’re doing nothing because they can.
After abortion providers appealed and the Department of Justice sued Texas, the Supreme Court fast-tracked the case to be heard during this term—a move that’s not only rarely used, but also sets the expectation that the Court will make a swift decision. High-profile examples of fast-tracked cases include Bush v. Gore on the 2000 presidential election, the New York Times’ reporting on the Vietnam War aka the “Pentagon Papers,” and President Richard Nixon’s attempts to suppress the audiotapes from the Watergate scandal.
Drexel University law professor David Cohen noted that the Court decided Bush v. Gore one day after arguments, and the Pentagon Papers case four days after. The decision in United States v. Nixon took 16 days. Arguments in these twin cases were on Monday, November 1—exactly three weeks ago—and still nothing.
The law has upended the lives of countless Texans since it took effect September 1 (it was blocked for all of two days in October before an appeals court reinstated it). People seeking abortions after embryonic cardiac activity is detected must either flee the state, buy abortion pills online in the face of legal risks, or give birth against their will. It’s effectively a flat-out ban for people under 18 who don’t want to tell their parents about their abortions, because the judicial workaround process itself takes two weeks. The law has also made it harder for residents of neighboring states to get appointments thanks to the influx of Texans, and has threatened the lives of people with ectopic pregnancies, like one who was turned away by two doctors who said they couldn’t end the pregnancy under SB8 and drove 12+ hours to New Mexico for care. Every day the law remains makes it harder for clinics to stay open, threatening longer-term access to not just abortion but also birth control and sometimes gender-affirming care, with the impacts hitting non-Planned Parenthood independent clinics hardest.
With their lack of urgency, the Justices have shown they simply don’t care about these people’s lives, or worse, they actively approve of the hardships the law has created. The Court is more than capable of acting quickly when it wants to—just look at their many decisions allowing states and the federal government to execute incarcerated people. But when abortion providers ask them to reaffirm nearly 50 years of abortion precedent, they kick their feet up and take their sweet time, rendering the right even more tenuous.
These same nine Justices will hear an abortion case out of Mississippi on December 1 in which they could overturn Roe outright. Observers do expect the Court will (eventually) allow the Texas abortion providers to proceed in challenging the law, but its nonchalant treatment of the fundamental right to control one’s own reproduction is an exceedingly grim omen for what’s to come.