U.S. judge blocks enforcement of Texas' controversial abortion ban, but the state's already appealing

click to enlarge A woman protests Texas' near-total abortion ban at a march in San Antonio last weekend. - Jaime Monzon
Jaime Monzon
A woman protests Texas' near-total abortion ban at a march in San Antonio last weekend.
On Wednesday night, a federal judge temporarily blocked Texas’ near-complete ban on abortion, handing a victory to the U.S. Justice Department which sued to block the law as unconstitutional.

The State of Texas filed a notice of appeal within roughly an hour of the ruling. The Attorney General's Office is expected to seek an emergency stay of U.S. District Judge Robert Pitman’s order in the right-leaning 5th Circuit Court of Appeals.

“From the moment [the Texas law] went into effect, women have been unlawfully prevented from exercising control over their lives in ways that are protected by the Constitution," Pittman wrote in his opinion. "That other courts may find a way to avoid this conclusion is theirs to decide; this Court will not sanction one more day of this offensive deprivation of such an important right.”

Women's health provider Planned Parenthood trumpeted the ruling, saying the new law stripped women of their right to seek abortions under Roe v. Wade for 36 days, forcing some to seek the procedure out-of-state. The group didn't say whether its Texas clinics would resume providing the service.

“For more than a month now, Texans have been deprived of abortion access because of an unconstitutional law that never should have gone into effect. The relief granted by the court today is overdue, and we are grateful that the Department of Justice moved quickly to seek it," Planned Parenthood Federation of America CEO Alexis McGill Johnson said in an emailed statement.

"Planned Parenthood providers across the country have reported serving Texas patients, who are heartbroken and furious that they’ve needed to leave home for essential health care — often at great expense," she added. "Planned Parenthood will continue fighting this ban in court, until we are certain that Texans’ ability to access abortion is protected.”

The Texas law seeks to skirt Roe v. Wade by letting private citizens enforce the ban by suing anyone they claim helped a woman seek an abortion outlawed under its provisions. Pittman's ruling appears to nip that in the bud by barring state courts from accepting such lawsuits. It also orders courts to post messages on their websites stating that they won't accept the filings.

In a statement, anti-abortion group Texas Right to Life said it may bring suits against anyone who helps a woman seek an abortion while the law's on hold — presuming the appeals court grants a stay. 

"Texas Right to Life is dedicated to holding the abortion industry accountable to the fullest extent possible under the law," spokeswoman Kimberlyn Schwartz said.

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Sanford Nowlin

Sanford Nowlin is editor-in-chief of the San Antonio Current.

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