Federal Appeals Court Affirms Texas Heartbeat Act Enforcement

The federal Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals issued an order on Tuesday that effectively dismissed all legal challenges to the civil enforcement procedures set out in the pro-life Texas Heartbeat Act. The law provides private citizens with the exclusive legal power to enforce the law through civil lawsuits in state court.

The court sent the lawsuit back to U.S. District Judge Robert Pitman with orders to dismiss all the claims against the enforcement provisions.

The Fifth Circuit decision came after it received a ruling from the Texas Supreme Court regarding the legal validity of the procedure in the statute that allows citizens rather than public officials to enforce the law.

The primary provisions of the Heartbeat Act declare abortions in Texas are prohibited after a fetal heartbeat is medically detected, which normally occurs around the sixth week of pregancy. It also requires that it be enforced exclusively by private citizens, who can sue anyone performing or aiding in an abortion. The unusual enforcement procedure was at the center of the litigation concluded in the state’s favor this week.

Abortion industry advocates have claimed the enforcement rules amount to “vigilantism.” Those who designed and support the law argue that it provides a legal way to work around the “right” to abortion set out in Roe v. Wade.


Republican Texas Governor Greg Abbott praised the court’s decision on Tuesday, describing it as “another legal loss” for abortion advocates. Abbott also noted that the new Texas law is continuing to “save babies every day.”

Texas Department of Health statistics indicate that abortions in the Lone Star State have been reduced by 60 percent since the Heartbeat Act was enacted last year.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton described the Heartbeat Act as “one of the greatest pro-life laws in the nation” and said he is “glad to defend it.”

The pro-life advocacy group Texas Right to Life reports that there have been 22 lawsuits filed in efforts to stop the Heartbeat Act from being enforced. The Texas Supreme Court has upheld the law in each of the three cases it has heard to date.

Several Republican-led states have considered or enacted bills modeled on the Texas law, as many pro-life lawmakers anticipate the possibility that the U.S. Supreme Court could overturn Roe v. Wade this year, making abortion an issue for states to resolve once again.