The Supreme Court heard oral arguments this week regarding the Texas “heartbeat” legislation that effectively bans abortions after a fetal heartbeat is detected. As one of the strongest pieces of pro-life legislation in the country, the law has attracted intense debate from both sides of the aisle and has led to another national conversation about abortion. The president of the California Family Council, Jonathan Keller, participated in an interview last week to talk about the bill, the Supreme Court’s oral arguments, and the implications of the law moving forward.
To summarize, the Texas legislature recently passed and Governor Greg Abbott signed a law that essentially bans abortions after a heartbeat is detected in the unborn child (typically around six weeks). Abortion providers have stated that the law would likely prevent somewhere around 85% of abortions in the state. However, the Texas law differs from other restrictive abortion laws in states like Kentucky and Georgia because it relies on private citizens, rather than elected officials, to enforce the law. Those private citizens are allowed to sue abortion providers and anyone else who may be “aiding and abetting” someone attempting to have an abortion. This would include anyone who drove that person to the abortion clinic and anyone else who may be involved in the process. It leaves the defense of the unborn up to private citizens, which will provide space for pro-life advocates to make a tangible impact on the cause.
Oral arguments at the Supreme Court lasted for three hours, as the Biden administration and abortion providers urged the Court to overturn the Texas law, citing “extraordinary” circumstances that would deny women of the ability to terminate their pregnancies. The Texas Solicitor General argued that the state has not “banned” the procedure and stated that it would be difficult to challenge the law in court because state officials are not in charge of enforcing it. The Court already refused to grant a temporary injunction preventing the law’s enforcement on September 1st, indicating that the Court may actually entertain a challenge to Roe v. Wade for the first time in decades, even ahead of its hearing of Dobbs vs. Jackson Women’s Health Organization on December 1st.
“This is, in some ways, only tangentially about abortion itself. The reason this was fast-tracked to the Supreme Court is because of that very unique enforcement mechanism,” explained Jonathan Keller, President of the California Family Council.
Keller says that this type of enforcement is not unique to Texas, noting that a similar mechanism has been used in laws in states like California as well. However, he also notes that there is some cause for concern that this type of enforcement could eventually be applied to other individual rights such as the 2nd Amendment as well.
“That [other applications] is something that is an interesting wrinkle of all of this. I think that’s why you saw a lot of discussion on process [in oral arguments], and I think the thing that’s going to be tricky for the Court is they already had decided to hear a very monumental abortion case… in just one month’s time we’re going to see the Mississippi Attorney General arguing another case.”
Discussing the future implications of this case and the Mississippi abortion law case (Dobbs vs. Jackson Women’s Health Center) being heard on December 1st, Keller spoke in the long-term:
“If you’re asking for my personal prediction, I actually think that there’s a good chance that the United States government or the abortion providers in Texas might actually win this initial round against the state of Texas, just because of the thorny constitutional issues at play. But I think we should all hold our breath for that big hearing… on December 1st.”
“We want to remind both our legislators and our state as a whole that voting for life is very important, but it’s equally important that we work together to support women that are facing unplanned pregnancies with love, with resources, and with support,” Keller said in reference to the significant March for Life that was held in California earlier this year.
As the pro-life movement continues to gain ground around the country, the upcoming Supreme Court decisions on these laws will have major implications moving forward.