Texas’s extreme near-total ban on abortion hit further resistance on Wednesday after a federal judge temporarily blocked the new law.
US District Judge Robert Pitman granted the Biden administration’s request to temporarily halt the new law, known as SB8, that bars abortions as early as six weeks of pregnancy. In a harshly worded 113-page ruling, Judge Pitman argues that Texas has sought to “actively, aggressively, and deliberately deprive its citizens of a constitutional right.”
“From the moment SB8 went into effect, women have been unlawfully prevented from exercising control over their own lives in ways that are protected by the Constitution,” he wrote.
“A person’s right under the Constitution to choose to obtain an abortion prior to fetal viability is well established. Fully aware that depriving its citizens of this right by direct state action would be flagrantly unconstitutional, the State contrived an unprecedented and transparent statutory scheme to do just that.”
It’s uncertain how the order may affect access to abortions in Texas and whether providers will resume performing abortions in the state. The temporary block was immediately challenged by Republican lawmakers. Just hours after the judge issued the order, Texas appealed the ruling, notifying that it would petition the US Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit to intervene, and setting the stage for further court battles.
The so-called “Texas Heartbeat Act” came into effect on September 1, banning doctors from performing or inducing an abortion after "cardiac activity" in an embryo can be detected via an ultrasound, which is around six weeks. Many people don't know they are pregnant at six weeks, as it is just two weeks after a missed period, so the new law is being characterized as a near-total abortion ban.
The new law does not include any exceptions for rape or incest, although there is an exemption for "medical emergencies." For the first time, the law also allows any private citizen to bring a civil suit against anyone who assists a pregnant person seeking an abortion. The temporary block, however, prohibits any state court judge or clerk from accepting or processing any civil lawsuits relating to the abortion ban.
The law has been in action for a little over a month, but constitutional rights groups have said it has already impacted people seeking an abortion, especially marginalized groups such as people of color and young people. While the recent court ruling has been welcomed by many advocating for abortion rights, the road ahead looks uncertain.
“A month ago, five Supreme Court Justices shrugged their shoulders and allowed this horrific law to take effect. The result has been devastating: people who need abortion care and have resources have been forced to flee the state and those without resources or the ability to travel have been forced to remain pregnant against their will,” Brigitte Amiri, deputy director of the American Civil Liberties Union Reproductive Freedom Project, said in a statement
"Though the court’s ruling offers a sigh of relief, the threat of Texas’ abortion ban still looms over the state as cases continue to move through the courts.”