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TIMELINE: Legal challenges to the Texas Heartbeat Act, the state's near-total ban on abortions

On Dec. 10, the U.S. Supreme Court issued an opinion on the Texas law. It was just the most recent action in a months-long legal battle.

AUSTIN, Texas — On Sept. 1, the Texas Heartbeat Act went into effect. The law bans abortions once fetal cardiac activity is detected, which is usually around six weeks and before most women know they're pregnant. 

Since then, the law has made an impact. One study estimated that the number of abortions in Texas was cut in half the first month the law was in effect. And clinics in neighboring states are reporting an increase in patients coming from Texas.

But since it went into effect – and even before – a legal battle has raged over the Texas Heartbeat Act. Abortion advocates say is oppressive and dangerous, while those who support the law say it saves lives.

On Dec. 10, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Texas abortion providers can sue over the ban, but the justices allowed the law to remain in effect.

We broke down some of the major legal challenges against the law since it went into effect in September.

Dec. 10, 2021

The U.S. Supreme Court rules that Texas abortion providers can sue over the state’s ban on most abortions, but the justices allow the law to remain in effect.  

The ruling from the nation's highest court comes weeks after justices heard arguments from Texas officials and the U.S. Department of Justice, which challenged the law, along with a group of abortion providers.

RELATED: Supreme Court refuses to block citizen enforcement of Texas' abortion law

Dec. 9, 2021

A state district judge rules that parts of Texas' new abortion law are unconstitutional and cannot be enforced. Specifically, the judge rules that how the law is enforced violates the Texas and U.S. constitutions. 

However, the ruling does not stop the law from being enforced.

Dec. 1, 2021

U.S. Supreme Court justices begin hearing oral arguments in an abortion rights case separate from the ones involving Texas and its abortion law. Justices are looking into whether to uphold a Mississippi law that bans abortion after 15 weeks and overrule the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision. Mississippi is also asking the court to overrule the 1992 ruling in Planned Parenthood v. Casey, which reaffirmed Roe. 

If the court rules in Mississippi's favor, the ruling could have major implications in Texas and other conservative states with strict abortion laws. 

RELATED: How will the SCOTUS decision on Mississippi's abortion law impact Texas' restrictive law?

Nov. 1, 2021

The U.S. Supreme Court hears arguments over two cases involving Texas and the law.

In the first case, a group of abortion providers suing the State argues that the enforcement of the law is unconstitutional because it avoids judicial review by leaving enforcement up to private citizens instead of State officials. 

The second case is the U.S. Justice Department versus Texas. The federal government is asking that it be allowed to intervene and block the law from being enforced because it also argues it is unconstitutional. 

In both cases, Texas argues the law is written so that, since the State isn't enforcing the law, there is really no one to sue.

The court signals it will allow abortion providers to pursue their court challenge, but it remains unclear how quickly the court will rule and whether it will issue an order blocking the law or require providers to ask a lower court to put the law on hold.

Oct. 22, 2021

The U.S. Supreme Court leaves the law in place but agrees to hear arguments in the case in early November. The justices say they will decide whether the federal government has the right to sue over the law.

Oct. 21, 2021

The State of Texas files a response to the Biden administration's call on the high court to block the law, urging the court to leave the law in place

RELATED: Texas urges Supreme Court to leave abortion law in place

Oct. 18, 2021

The Biden administration asks the U.S. Supreme Court to block the law. The administration also tells the justices they can grant the law a full review and decide its fate this term. 

RELATED: Biden team asks Supreme Court to pause Texas abortion law

Oct. 14, 2021

A federal appeals court rejects the Biden administration's latest attempt to undo the Texas abortion law, pushing the law closer to the U.S. Supreme Court. The new order by the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals extends a previous order that keeps the law in place and marks the third time that the court has sided with Texas in the ongoing legal battle.

RELATED: Court again lets Texas continue banning most abortions

Oct. 8, 2021

A federal appeals court allows Texas to resume banning most abortions. The one-page order by the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reinstates the law.

RELATED: Appeals court says Texas abortion law can resume; orders DOJ to respond by Tuesday

Oct. 6, 2021

A federal judge orders Texas to suspend its abortion law, calling it an "offensive deprivation" of a constitutional right. Following the order, some Texas clinics quickly resume procedures.

RELATED: Federal judge orders Texas to suspend law banning most abortions

Oct. 4, 2021

The Texas Supreme Court denies Planned Parenthood's emergency request for a writ of mandamus. Planned Parenthood says all state court challenges, including a lawsuit against Texas Right to Life, cannot continue. 

RELATED: Texas Supreme Court rules against Planned Parenthood's challenges of the Texas abortion law

Sept. 23, 2021

A group of Texas abortion providers and others once again asks the Supreme Court to intervene in a case challenging a new Texas law that bans most abortions.

RELATED: Texas abortion rights advocates again ask Supreme Court to intervene in challenge against new law

Sept. 13, 2021

A district court in Travis County grants a temporary injunction, stopping Texas Right to Life from being able to sue Planned Parenthood centers under the Texas Heartbeat Act.

RELATED: Anti-abortion nonprofit can't sue Planned Parenthood under heartbeat bill, for now, after court grants temporary injunction

Sept. 9, 2021

The U.S. Justice Department sues Texas over the abortion law, arguing it was enacted "in open defiance of the Constitution." The lawsuit, filed in a federal court in Texas, asks a federal judge to declare that the law is invalid, "to enjoin its enforcement, and to protect the rights that Texas has violated."

Sept. 3, 2021

Planned Parenthood affiliates in Texas file a request in a Travis County district court for a temporary restraining order (TRO) against Texas Right to Life, an anti-abortion nonprofit, and its associates. Planned Parenthood says it wishes to stop the group from suing abortion providers and health care workers at Planned Parenthood centers in Texas.

The following day, Sept. 4, a judge grants the TRO.

Sept. 2, 2021

A divided U.S. Supreme Court allows the law to remain in force, denying the Aug. 30 emergency appeal from abortion providers and others. The court says its decision is not a response to the constitutionality of the law and "in no way limits other procedurally proper challenges to the Texas law, including in Texas state courts." 

Later the same day, President Joe Biden says the court's refusal to block the law was a misuse of power and "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."

Sept. 1, 2021

The Texas Heartbeat Act goes into effect as the U.S. Supreme Court remains silent on the emergency request. The law bans abortions once a fetal heartbeat is detected, which is usually around six weeks and before most women know they're pregnant. No exceptions are made in cases of rape or incest.

The law is enforced by private citizens who can sue abortion providers or anyone who aids a woman in getting an abortion. Anyone who successfully sues another person would be entitled to at least $10,000.

RELATED: Texas 6-week abortion ban takes effect as Supreme Court stays silent

Aug. 30, 2021

Reproductive rights groups make an eleventh-hour attempt to keep Senate Bill 8, the so-called "Texas Heartbeat Act" or "Heartbeat Bill," from going into effect.

RELATED: Reproductive rights groups ask Supreme Court to block Texas Senate Bill 8 before it goes into effect

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), ACLU of Texas, Center for Reproductive Rights, The Lawyering Project, Morrison & Foerster LLP and Planned Parenthood filed an emergency request with the U.S. Supreme Court asking it to block SB 8. The filing came after the 5h Circuit Court of Appeals denied the plaintiffs' request to block the law one day prior.


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