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Texans react to Supreme Court challenges to the state's abortion law

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

What did advocates for and against a Texas abortion law hear when the Supreme Court spoke yesterday? Justices, of course, did not rule on the law, but they did hear arguments over the law that bans most abortions after six weeks because that six-week ban blatantly contradicts the Constitution. The law does not tell state officials to enforce it and instead offers bounties to random people anywhere in the country if they sue. Ashley Lopez of KUT in Austin has been following this debate and is on the line once again. Ashley, good morning.

ASHLEY LOPEZ, BYLINE: Good morning.

INSKEEP: Let's start with what you heard. You're a journalist. You're listening. What did you hear when the justices were asking their questions of the lawyers?

LOPEZ: Well, I mean, these hearings were really limited in scope. They were mostly focused on the way Texas is enforcing its abortion ban by having private citizens sue people who provide or help provide an abortion to someone past that six-week limit. This enforcement mechanism has made it really hard for folks like abortion providers to actually challenge this in court, so the justices are weighing in on whether it's OK for Texas to basically deputize private citizens to enforce its laws.

INSKEEP: Well, let's start with abortion providers who, of course, were part of the case and were listening to the case. What did they make of the justices' questions?

LOPEZ: So after the hearings, attorneys representing the abortion providers who sued talked about how it went. They said they thought a lot of the questions asked by the justices, including from some of the more conservative members like Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett, seemed to indicate that they had concerns about how this law seems to skirt the courts in Texas. One of the lawyers is Julie Murray with Planned Parenthood. She says that while this could be a good sign for plaintiffs, it doesn't change the fact that a few weeks ago, the same court refused to temporarily block the law from being in effect as these legal challenges continue.

JULIE MURRAY: Certainly, we are heartened by the vigorous questioning of today's hearing. But the reality on the ground is that until SB 8 is stopped with some sort of injunction, patients are still suffering irreparable harm.

LOPEZ: Murray pointed out that it's now been more than 60 days during which Texas has had different abortion rights than the rest of the country, and it's not clear whether yesterday's hearing might convince the justices to change their mind and block the law even temporarily.

INSKEEP: OK, abortion providers heartened but still concerned. What about anti-abortion groups in Texas?

LOPEZ: I talked to John Seago with Texas Right to Life. He says he was glad to see that the court seemed skeptical about the suit brought by the Justice Department. I think one of the big takeaways by legal observers is that the courts seem more inclined to allow the suit brought by the abortion providers to move forward compared to the case brought by the federal government. But either way, anti-abortion groups continue to claim a big victory in the fact that the law has stayed in effect throughout all of this back-and-forth in the courts. And John Seago told me he thinks the court will probably keep the law in place, even though justices have concerns about some aspects of how this law was crafted.

JOHN SEAGO: So we believe that's going to be the case - is that no matter how they rule on these standings and jurisdiction questions for the case to move forward, they seem to be in a position to allow the law to stay in effect.

LOPEZ: For their part, abortion providers in Texas are really concerned about what will happen to clinics and abortion access in the state if this law is allowed to stay in effect even just a little longer. They say this could eventually lead to many clinics to have to shut down indefinitely and maybe forever.

INSKEEP: OK, Ashley, thanks so much for the update. Really appreciate it.

LOPEZ: Thank you.

INSKEEP: Ashley Lopez is a reporter at KUT in Austin. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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