US Court of Appeals Allows Texas to Temporarily Resume Abortion Law
On Friday night, a federal appeals court quickly allowed Texas to resume the ban on most abortions, just a day after clinics across the state began rushing to serve patients again for the first time. times since early September.
Abortion providers in Texas were bracing for the 5th U.S. Court of Appeals to act quickly, even as they made new appointments and reopened during a brief stay of law known as name of Senate Bill 8, which prohibits abortions once cardiac activity is detected, usually around six weeks.
US District Judge Robert Pitman, appointed by President Barack Obama, on Wednesday suspended Texas law he called an “offensive denial” of the constitutional right to abortion. But in a one-page order, the New Orleans appeals court temporarily overturned Pitman’s decision while it considers the state’s appeal.
The court gave the Biden administration, which had filed the lawsuit, until Tuesday to respond.
The Center for Reproductive Rights, which represents several Texas abortion clinics, urged the US Supreme Court to “step in and stop this madness.”
“The patients are thrown back into a state of chaos and fear,” said Nancy Northup, president of the organization.
Texas had about two dozen abortion clinics before the law came into effect on September 1, and not all Texas abortion providers resumed service during the 48 hours the law was in effect. waiting. Many doctors feared such a rapid turnaround by the court of appeal, which could put them in legal danger.
The new law threatens Texas abortion providers with lawsuits from private citizens, who are entitled to at least $ 10,000 in damages if successful. This new approach to enforcement is why Texas was able to escape a previous wave of court challenges ahead of this week.
The same appeals court allowed the law to go into effect in September and came just hours after the office of Texas Republican Attorney General Ken Paxton urged them to act.
His office told the court that since the state does not enforce the law, it cannot “be held responsible for statements by private citizens that Texas is powerless to prevent.”
It is not known how many abortions Texas clinics have performed in the short time since the law was suspended. As of Thursday, at least six abortion providers had resumed their normal services or were preparing to do so, according to the Center for Reproductive Rights.
Prior to Pitman’s 113-page order, other courts had refused to stop the law, which bans abortions before some women even know they are pregnant. This includes the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals and Supreme Court, which allowed it to move forward in September without ruling on the constitutionality of the law.
One of the first providers to resume normal services was Whole Woman’s Health, which operates four clinics in Texas.
Amy Hagstrom Miller, president of Whole Woman’s Health, said her clinics called some patients who were on a list Thursday morning in case the law was blocked at some point. More appointments were being scheduled for the coming days, and the phone lines were busy again. But some of the 17 clinics’ doctors still refused to perform abortions, fearing they would be held accountable despite the judge’s order.
Pitman’s order was the first legal blow to Senate Bill 8, which had withstood a wave of earlier challenges. In the weeks after the restrictions took effect, Texas abortion providers said the impact had been “exactly what we feared.”
Pitman took Texas to task in his opinion.
“Since the entry into force of SB 8, women have been unlawfully prevented from exercising control over their lives in a constitutionally protected manner,” wrote Pitman, who was appointed to the bench by the former. President Barack Obama.
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 to have an abortion. Other women, they say, are forced to carry their pregnancies to term.
The number of abortions performed in Texas since the law came into force is unknown. State health officials say additional reporting requirements under the law will not make September data available on its website until early next year.
A 1992 U.S. Supreme Court ruling prevented states from banning abortion before viability, the point at which a fetus can survive outside the womb, around 24 weeks gestation. But the Texas version has so far defied the courts because it leaves the execution to private citizens to sue, not prosecutors, which critics say amounts to a bounty.