Following the Supreme Court's 5-4 decision to allow a Texas law that bans most abortions to remain in force, stripping most women of the right to an abortion in the state, President Joe Biden slammed the ruling "an unprecedented assault on a woman’s constitutional rights under Roe v. Wade."
The court voted 5-4 early Thursday to deny an emergency appeal from abortion providers and others that sought to block enforcement of the law that went into effect Wednesday.
The Texas law, signed by Republican Gov. Greg Abbott in May, prohibits abortions once medical professionals can detect cardiac activity, usually around six weeks and before most women know they’re pregnant.
"The Supreme Court’s ruling overnight is an unprecedented assault on a woman’s constitutional rights under Roe v. Wade, which has been the law of the land for almost fifty years," President Biden wrote in a statement.
It is the strictest law against abortion rights in the United States since the high court’s landmark Roe v. Wade decision in 1973 and part of a broader push by Republicans nationwide to impose new restrictions on abortion.
"By allowing a law to go into effect that empowers private citizens in Texas to sue health care providers, family members supporting a woman exercising her right to choose after six weeks, or even a friend who drives her to a hospital or clinic, it unleashes unconstitutional chaos and empowers self-anointed enforcers to have devastating impacts," he added.
"Complete strangers will now be empowered to inject themselves in the most private and personal health decisions faced by women. This law is so extreme it does not even allow for exceptions in the case of rape or incest," Biden continued. "And it not only empowers complete strangers to inject themselves into the most private of decisions made by a woman—it actually incentivizes them to do so with the prospect of $10,000 if they win their case."
At least 12 other states have enacted bans early in pregnancy, but all have been blocked from going into effect.
"In reaching this conclusion, we stress that we do not purport to resolve definitively any jurisdictional or substantive claim in the applicants’ lawsuit," the court said in the unsigned order. "In particular, this order is not based on any conclusion about the constitutionality of Texas’s law, and in no way limits other procedurally proper challenges to the Texas law, including in Texas state courts."
Chief Justice John Roberts, Justice Stephen Breyer, Justice Sonia Sotomayor and Justice Elena Kagan dissented.
In her dissent, Justice Sotomayor called the order "stunning."
"Presented with an application to enjoin a flagrantly unconstitutional law engineered to prohibit women from exercising their constitutional rights and evade judicial scrutiny, a majority of Justices have opted to bury their heads in the sand," she wrote.
"The Act is a breathtaking act of defiance," Justice Sotomayor continued, adding: "The Court should not be so content to ignore its constitutional obligations to protect not only the rights of women, but also the sanctity of its precedents and of the rule of law."
In a separate dissent, Justice Kagan blasted the court's decision, saying it "is emblematic of too much of this Court’s shadow-docket decisionmaking," which she said "becomes more unreasoned, inconsistent, and impossible to defend."
"For the majority to do this without a hearing, without the benefit of an opinion from a court below, and without due consideration of the issues, insults the rule of law and the rights of all Americans to seek redress from our courts," Biden said. "Rather than use its supreme authority to ensure justice could be fairly sought, the highest Court of our land will allow millions of women in Texas in need of critical reproductive care to suffer while courts sift through procedural complexities."
Chief Justice Roberts noted that while the majority denied the request for emergency relief "the Court’s order is emphatic in making clear that it cannot be understood as sustaining the constitutionality of the law at issue."
Texas lawmakers wrote the law to evade federal court review by allowing private citizens to bring civil lawsuits in state court against anyone involved in an abortion, other than the patient. Other abortion laws are enforced by state and local officials, with criminal sanctions possible.
"In effect, the Texas Legislature has deputized the State's citizens as bounty hunters, offering them cash prizes for civilly prosecuting their neighbors' medical procedures," Sotomayor wrote in her scathing dissent.
The vote in the case underscores the impact of the death of the liberal Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg last year and then-president Donald Trump’s replacement of her with conservative Justice Amy Coney Barrett. Had Ginsburg remained on the court there would have been five votes to halt the Texas law.
Kagan called the law “patently unconstitutional,” saying it allows “private parties to carry out unconstitutional restrictions on the State’s behalf.”
Justice Stephen Breyer said a “woman has a federal constitutional right to obtain an abortion during” the first stage of pregnancy.
Biden said that the dissents from Roberts, Kagan, Breyer and Sotomayor "demonstrate the error of the Court’s action here powerfully."
The president directed the Gender Policy Council and the Office of the White House Counsel "to launch a whole-of-government effort to respond to this decision."
Specifically, Biden said, they will look "to the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Justice to see what steps the Federal Government can take to ensure that women in Texas have access to safe and legal abortions as protected by Roe, and what legal tools we have to insulate women and providers from the impact of Texas’ bizarre scheme of outsourced enforcement to private parties."
When asked at a briefing later Thursday about why Biden supports abortion, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said that the president "believes that it's a woman's right, it's a woman's body and it's her choice."
"He believes that it's up to a woman to make those decisions, and up to a woman to make those decisions with her doctor," Psaki said to the male reporter. "I know you've never faced those choices, nor have you ever been pregnant, but for women out there who have faced those choces, this is an incredibly difficult thing, the president believes that right should be respected."
Psaki was also asked what advice President Biden would give to a woman in Texas currently seeking an abortion.
"What the president would convey to any woman who is trying to get an abortion, seek an abortion, be able to employ her constitutional right to seek health care and health care that is enshrined and allowed by federal law, what he would convey to them?" Psaki asked.
Psaki said that the president would convey to that woman that he has asked his team to "use every lever at their disposal to ensure you have this right, to ensure you have access, to ensure that you can have the ability to seek medical care in the way every woman should have the right to across the country, and he has made that a priority."
Psaki also said that "the president's view on the expansion of courts has not changed," citing the ongoing work of the Presidential Commission on the Supreme Court of the United States, which has been tasked to study potential reforms to the nation's highest court.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said in a statement that when the chamber reconvenes, "the House will bring up Congresswoman Judy Chu’s Women’s Health Protection Act to enshrine into law reproductive health care for all women across America."
Rep. Chu's bill, introduced in May alongside Sens. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., Tammy Baldwin, D-Wisc. and Reps. Ayanna Pressley, D-Mass., Lois Frankel, D-FLa., and Veronica Escobar, D-Texas, would "protect a person’s ability to determine whether to continue or end a pregnancy, and to protect a health care provider’s ability to provide abortion services."
"The Supreme Court’s cowardly, dark-of-night decision to uphold a flagrantly unconstitutional assault on women’s rights and health is staggering," Pelosi wrote. "That this radically partisan Court chose to do so without a full briefing, oral arguments or providing a full, signed opinion is shameful."
"Every woman, everywhere has the constitutional right to basic health care," she continued, calling the bill "the most extreme, dangerous abortion ban in half a century, and its purpose is to destroy Roe v. Wade, and even refuses to make exceptions for cases of rape and incest.
"SB8 unleashes one of the most disturbing, unprecedented and far-reaching assaults on health care providers – and on anyone who helps a woman, in any way, access an abortion – by creating a vigilante bounty system that will have a chilling effect on the provision of any reproductive health care services," Pelosi added. "This provision is a cynical, backdoor attempt by partisan lawmakers to evade the Constitution and the law to destroy not only a woman’s right to health care but potentially any right or protection that partisan lawmakers target."
In a statement early Thursday after the high court’s action, Nancy Northup, the head of the Center for Reproductive Rights, which represents abortion providers challenging the law, vowed to “keep fighting this ban until abortion access is restored in Texas.”
"We are devastated that the Supreme Court has refused to block a law that blatantly violates Roe v. Wade. Right now, people seeking abortion across Texas are panicking — they have no idea where or when they will be able to get an abortion, if ever. Texas politicians have succeeded for the moment in making a mockery of the rule of law, upending abortion care in Texas, and forcing patients to leave the state — if they have the means — to get constitutionally protected healthcare. This should send chills down the spine of everyone in this country who cares about the constitution,” she said.
Texas has long had some of the nation’s toughest abortion restrictions, including a sweeping law passed in 2013. The Supreme Court eventually struck down that law, but not before more than half of the state’s 40-plus clinics closed.
Even before the Texas case arrived at the high court the justices had planned to tackle the issue of abortion rights in a major case after the court begins hearing arguments again in the fall. That case involves the state of Mississippi, which is asking to be allowed to enforce an abortion ban after 15 weeks of pregnancy.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.