AUSTIN, Texas — A federal judge on Wednesday ordered Texas to suspend the most restrictive abortion law in the US, which has banned most abortions in the country’s second most populous state since September.
U.S. District Judge Robert Pittman’s order is the first legal blow to a Texas law known as Senate Bill 8, which had so far faced a wave of initial challenges. In the weeks after the restrictions went into effect, Texas abortion providers say the impact is “exactly what we feared.”
But despite the law’s ban, abortion services in Texas may not resume immediately because doctors still fear they could be prosecuted without a more permanent legal decision.
Texas officials may seek a swift reversal from the 5th US Circuit Court of Appeals, which previously allowed the sanctions to take effect.
The law, signed by Republican Governor Greg Abbott in May, prohibits abortions after cardiac activity is detected, which is usually about six weeks, before some women even know they are pregnant. To enforce the law, Texas deputed private citizens to file suit against violators, and if successful entitle them to damages of at least $10,000.
The lawsuit was brought by the Biden administration, which has said the sanctions were imposed in defiance of the US Constitution.
The Biden administration argued that Texas attacked a woman’s constitutional right to an abortion. The GOP-engineered sanctions were signed into law in May by Republican Gov. Greg Abbott and took effect on September 1.
“A state can’t ban abortion at six weeks. Texas knew this, but it wanted a six-week ban anyway, so the state resorted to an unprecedented scheme of vigilante justice, which was called for by abortion providers and others. was designed to intimidate people who might help women exercise their constitutional rights,” Justice Department attorney Brian Netter told federal court Friday.
Abortionists say their fears have turned into reality in the short time since the law came into force. Planned Parenthood says the number of Texas patients at its clinics in the state has decreased by about 80% in the two weeks since the law took effect.
Some providers have said clinics in Texas are now in danger of closure, while neighboring states are struggling to contain the number of patients who must drive hundreds of miles. He says other women are being forced to conceive.
Other states, mostly in the South, have passed similar laws that ban abortions within the early weeks of pregnancy, all of which have been blocked by judges. But the Texas version has so far overtaken the courts because it leaves private citizens to file a lawsuit, not prosecutors, which critics say equates to a bounty.
Will Thompson defending the law for the Texas Attorney General’s office said, “It’s not some sort of vigilance plan.” “This is a plan that uses the normal, lawful process of justice in Texas.”
The Texas law is just one that has set up the largest test of abortion rights in the US in decades, and is part of a broader push by Republicans nationwide to introduce new restrictions on abortion.
On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court began a new term, in Mississippi’s bid in December in the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade’s ruling, which guaranteed a woman’s right to an abortion.
Last month, the court ruled on the constitutionality of the Texas law not allowing it to remain in place. But abortion providers took that 5-4 vote as an ominous sign of where the court was going after former President Donald Trump’s conservative majority with three appointments on abortion.
Ahead of the Supreme Court’s new term, Planned Parenthood released a report on Friday saying that if Roe v. Wade were overturned, 26 states have provisions to ban abortions. According to Planned Parenthood, this year alone, about 600 abortion restrictions have been imposed in state homes across the country, with more than 90 becoming laws.
Texas officials argued in court filings this week (the week of September 26) that even if the law was temporarily halted, providers could still face the threat of litigation over violations that could warrant a permanent decision. Might happen in the middle.
At least one Texas abortion provider has admitted to violating the law and has been prosecuted — but not by abortion opponents. Former Illinois and Arkansas attorneys say they sued the San Antonio doctor in hopes of getting a judge who would invalidate the law.