Texas top court deals blow to clinics seeking to block abortion law

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March 11 (Reuters) - Texas's high court on Friday effectively ended a challenge by clinics to a state law that banned most abortions in Texas by ruling that state officials including those tasked with doctor licensing have no role in enforcing the law.

The Texas Supreme Court ruled that only private citizens, not state officials, can enforce the law known as SB8 by suing anyone who performs or assists a woman in obtaining an abortion after about six weeks of pregnancy.

The conservative-leaning U.S. Supreme Court in December allowed the case to partly move forward against only those same licensing officials and not others, while leaving the ban in place. read more

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Suing officials would have allowed the clinics to overcome a novel feature of the law that has frustrated their ability to challenge it in federal court by placing enforcement in the hands of private citizens, rather than the state officials.

The clinics sought an injunction barring the officials from enforcing the law, which took effect Sept. 1 and bans abortions after cardiac activity is detected in the embryo. Citizens can be awarded at least $10,000 for successful lawsuits.

The clinics contend the law is unconstitutional under Roe v. Wade, the 1973 decision that made abortion legal nationwide, and that the U.S. Supreme Court with its 6-3 conservative majority is now weighing rolling back or overturning in a Mississippi case. read more

After the Supreme Court's December ruling, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals asked the Republican-dominated Texas Supreme Court to consider whether those licensing officials could indirectly enforce the law by taking disciplinary actions against violators. read more

Justice Jeffrey Boyd, writing for the unanimous nine-member court, on Friday said the answer was no. "Texas law does not grant the state-agency executives named as defendants in this case any authority to enforce the Act’s requirements."

While the case now will return to the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, abortion rights groups said the ruling meant their high-profile case would now be thrown out. Other challenges to the law remain pending.

"With this ruling, the sliver of this case that we were left with is gone," Nancy Northup, president of the Center for Reproductive Rights, which represented the clinics, said in a statement.

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Reporting by Nate Raymond in Boston Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Bill Berkrot

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