- A federal judge blocked enforcement of Texas’ strict abortion law that bans the procedure after six weeks of pregnancy.
- In his order, Judge Robert Pitman said: “This Court will not sanction one more day of this offensive deprivation of such an important right.”
- The ruling granted the Biden administration’s request to temporarily block enforcement of the law.
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A federal judge on Wednesday blocked enforcement of Texas’ recently enacted abortion law, which banned the procedure after six weeks of pregnancy and effectively restricted abortion access in the state – but the state has already appealed the temporary block.
US District Judge Robert Pitman wrote in his 113-page opinion that “this Court will not sanction one more day of this offensive deprivation of such an important right.”
Pitman’s ruling stemmed from a lawsuit brought by the Biden administration against Texas to temporarily block enforcement of the six-week ban, known as SB 8.
The Texas law is considered to be the most restrictive in the nation. Other Republican-led states have tried unsuccessfully to enact similar restrictions, but federal judges blocked those laws from taking effect, arguing that they violated the constitutional right to an abortion guaranteed by the 1973 Supreme Court ruling, Roe v. Wade. That landmark decision legalized abortion until 24 weeks of pregnancy, the point at which a fetus can survive outside the womb, otherwise known as viability.
The Biden administration last month launched a legal challenge against Texas in response to the Supreme Court on September 2 allowing the Texas statute to stand a day after it took effect. In a narrow 5-4 vote, the high court declined an emergency request from abortion providers in the state to block the law. The court’s majority argued that its ruling was technical and that the justices did not consider the constitutionality of the law.
President Joe Biden slammed the Supreme Court’s move, calling it “an unprecedented assault on a woman’s constitutional rights under Roe v. Wade.”
Biden’s Department of Justice then sued the state of Texas in an attempt to block the new law. Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton pushed back on the effort, arguing that the lawsuit had no legal standing because of the statute’s unique enforcement mechanism, specifically crafted to circumvent judicial review.
The Texas law differs from those of other states’ because it calls on ordinary citizens, rather than state officials, to enforce the ban. That means someone could sue a doctor carrying out the procedure or anyone who “aids and abets” a person getting an abortion beyond the six-week limit. Successful plaintiffs could earn up to $10,000 in damages, in addition to legal fees.
Pitman heard arguments from the state of Texas and the Biden administration last Friday, in which Texas officials asked him to dismiss the DOJ’s request to temporarily halt the law.
But Pitman in his order on Wednesday granted the DOJ’s request, writing that Texas had designed an “unprecedented and aggressive scheme to deprive its citizens of a significant and well-established constitutional right.”
“From the moment S.B. 8 went into effect, women have been unlawfully prevented from exercising control over their lives in ways that are protected by the Constitution,” Pitman, an Obama appointee, wrote.
Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts likewise called the Texas statute “unprecedented” in his dissenting opinion last month. The court’s three liberals, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan, also dissented.
Texas has already appealed the ruling in the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, which is considered one of the most conservative courts in the state.
On another note, the Supreme Court will soon consider the constitutionality of abortion in a major case concerning a Mississippi law that bans nearly all abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy, potentially threatening Roe. Arguments on the case, Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, are on December 1.
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