Justice Antonin Scalia, setting the stage for prompt Supreme Court action on the enforcement of a Texas abortion law, on Wednesday told Texas to reply by 4 p.m. Friday on whether that law should be put on hold temporarily. Abortion clinics and doctors in the state have asked the Court, through Scalia, to delay the law’s effect until the Justices act on an appeal they will file later.
Scalia acted a day after the postponement was sought, with the clinics and doctors noting that swift action was necessary because the two key provisions of the state law are due to go into effect next Wednesday. Scalia has the authority to act on his own, but he probably will share the issue with his colleagues, as he did in October when the Court dealt with the Texas case at a preliminary stage.
Under the Texas law, doctors who perform abortions at clinics must have privileges to admit patients to a hospital within thirty miles of the clinic, and all clinics in the state must have facilities equal to those available at a surgical center. The clinics and their doctors argue that neither requirement is medically necessary, and will only add burdens to a woman’s right to end her pregnancy. State officials argue that both provisions are needed to protect women’s health.
Both of those provisions have been upheld, in nearly all situations in the state, by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. It modified the surgical facilities requirement slightly to accommodate the clinic in McAllen, the only clinic performing abortions in a wide area of southwest Texas. The Fifth Circuit divided two to one in refusing to delay the enforcement of the law.
The Supreme Court is likely to finish its current Term early next week. Although it is likely to take some action on the delay request by then, it will not act on the coming appeal until next fall, because of its summer recess.