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Several dozen people showed up at the Capitol to protest Texas' controversial anti-abortion law on Sept. 11, 2021. (Michael Gonzalez/The Texas Tribune)

By Reese Oxner

A state district judge on Wednesday morning is hearing arguments from abortion rights groups challenging Texas' restrictive abortion law in what could be the first court hearing over the statute's constitutionality.


David Peeples, a retired state magistrate judge, is presiding over the hearing, which started at 9 a.m. and is expected to last all day. Peeples will hear over a dozen cases filed in state court challenging Senate Bill 8, which effectively bans abortions after about six weeks.

These lawsuits — filed by Planned Parenthood, doctors, social workers, abortion fund organizations, practical support networks and lawyers — were consolidated by Texas' multidistrict litigation panel and will be heard together. The plaintiffs have asked that the court declare Texas' new law unconstitutional.

"In short, SB8's enforcement mechanism, created to subvert one constitutional right, violates the Texas and United States Constitutions," wrote attorneys representing the plaintiffs.

The lawsuits are the latest challenge against the controversial law. While other courts have already had hearings on the law, this could be the first one to hold discussions over its overall constitutionality. It's unclear what the outcome of the hearing will be or what weight it could hold overall.

"Today is the first day since SB 8 went into effect that the people of Texas will be heard on this law," Anna Rupani, Fund Texas Choice executive director, said during a Wednesday press conference before the hearing. "All you've seen so far in courts has been on procedure."

Rupani said the law especially affects low-income people and people of color by putting financial and geographical barriers in the way they seek care.

The lawsuits target Texas Right to Life, a prominent anti-abortion organization that helped draft Texas' law and has vowed to sue violators — although the group has not yet filed suits against anyone.

Texas Right to Life, in an October statement on its website, said it believes these lawsuits will not affect the overall way the law is enforced in the state.

"These lawsuits do nothing towards preventing the Texas Heartbeat Act from being enforced against other individuals and groups within the abortion industry, should they violate the law," the organization said.

The U.S. Supreme Court, which heard oral arguments in two other cases challenging the abortion law, is also expected to rule soon on whether to allow the challenges to proceed. During those hearings, the majority of justices expressed concerns with the way the Texas law is enforced. The statute forbids state or law officials from enforcing it, instead relying on private citizens to sue those who violate it.

Wednesday's hearing can be viewed live on this YouTube channel.

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