Judge orders Texas to suspend new law banning most abortions

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AUSTIN, Texas – A federal judge on Wednesday ordered Texas to suspend the most restrictive abortion law in the United States, which since September has banned most abortions in the nation’s second most populous state.

The order from U.S. District Judge Robert Pitman is the first legal blow to Texas law known as Senate Bill 8, which so far has withstood a wave of early challenges. In the weeks after the restrictions took effect, Texas abortion providers said the impact had been “exactly what we feared.”

But even with the law pending, abortion services in Texas may not instantly resume because doctors still fear prosecution without a more permanent legal decision.

Texas officials are likely to seek a swift overturn from the U.S. 5th Court of Appeals, which previously allowed the restrictions to take effect.

The law, signed by Republican Gov. Greg Abbott in May, bans abortions once heart activity is detected, which is typically around six weeks, before some women even know they are pregnant. To enforce the law, Texas has mandated private citizens to sue violators and entitled them to at least $ 10,000 in damages if successful.

The lawsuit was brought by the Biden administration, which said the restrictions were enacted in defiance of the US Constitution.

The Biden administration argued that Texas had attacked a woman’s constitutional right to abortion. The GOP-designed restrictions were enacted by Republican Gov. Greg Abbott in May and went into effect on September 1.

“A state cannot ban six week abortions. Texas knew it, but it still wanted a six-week ban, so the state resorted to an unprecedented self-defense justice system designed to scare abortion providers and others who could help women. to exercise their constitutional rights, ”Justice Department attorney Brian Netter said. federal court on Friday.

Abortion providers say their fears have come true in the short time the law came into effect. Planned Parenthood says the number of Texas patients at its state clinics declined by nearly 80% in the two weeks after the law came into force.

Some providers have said clinics in Texas are now at risk of closing as neighboring states struggle to cope with a wave of patients who have to travel hundreds of miles. Other women, they say, are forced to carry their pregnancies to term.

Other states, mostly in the South, have passed similar laws banning abortion in the first weeks of pregnancy, all of which judges have blocked. But the Texas version has so far defied the courts, as it leaves the execution to private citizens to sue, not prosecutors, which critics say amounts to a bounty.

“It’s not some sort of self-defense ploy,” said Will Thompson, a law advocate for the Texas attorney general’s office. “This is a ploy that uses the normal and legal process of justice in Texas.”

The Texas law is just the one that has set up the biggest test of abortion rights in the United States in decades, and it’s part of a larger push by Republicans nationwide to impose new restrictions on abortion.

On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court begins a new term, which in December will include arguments in Mississippi’s attempt to overturn the landmark Roe v. Wade of 1973 guaranteeing a woman’s right to an abortion.

Last month, the court did not rule on the constitutionality of Texas law by allowing it to remain in place. But abortion providers took the 5-4 vote as a worrying sign on the direction the court could take on abortion after its Tory majority was bolstered by three people named by former President Donald Trump .

Ahead of the Supreme Court’s new term, Planned Parenthood released a report on Friday indicating that if Roe v. Wade was canceled, 26 states would be ready to ban abortion. This year alone, nearly 600 abortion restrictions were introduced in state houses nationwide, more than 90 of which have become laws, according to Planned Parenthood.

Texas officials argued in court records this week (week of September 26) that even if the law was temporarily suspended, providers could still face the threat of litigation for violations that could arise between a permanent decision.

At least one Texas abortion provider has admitted to breaking the law and has been sued – but not by abortion opponents. Former Illinois and Arkansas lawyers said they sued a San Antonio doctor in hopes of getting a judge to strike down the law.


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