AUSTIN — A federal judge late Wednesday temporarily blocked enforcement of a Texas abortion law, which effectively restricts the procedure, in favor of the federal government in a lawsuit over the ban.
“This court will not sanction another day of this invasive deprivation of such an important authority,” U.S. District Judge Robert Pittman said at the conclusion of an 113-page ruling that blocked Senate Bill 8.
Republican Governor Greg Abbott signed into law what’s known as the “fetal heartbeat” bill in May. It prohibits abortion after a fetal heartbeat is detected, usually around six weeks of pregnancy and before many people know they are pregnant.
There is no exemption in cases of rape or incest.
Abortion providers say the law would prohibit 85% of abortion procedures in Texas. The law is one of the most direct challenges to the limits of the US Supreme Court’s landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion.
Similar six-week abortion laws in Georgia, Kentucky and other states have been blocked by federal courts.
But last month, the Supreme Court left the law to take effect. On objections from three liberal associate judges and Chief Justice John Roberts, the High Court refused to block enforcement of the law in a 5-4 decision.
Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor called the decision “astonishing” in a dissenting opinion joined by Associate Justices Stephen Breuer and Elena Kagan.
The Texas law differed from other restrictive abortion laws in that rather than relying on the authorities to enforce the law, private citizens are allowed to prosecute abortion providers and anyone involved in “aiding and abortion”.
This can include, among other situations, anyone taking a person to an abortion clinic. Whoever succeeds in suing is entitled to $10,000 by law.
Abortion rights advocates say the law has been written to prevent federal courts from curtailing it, because it’s hard to know who to sue.
The Justice Department said last month that it would protect people’s access to abortion in Texas, regardless of the law. Attorney General Merrick Garland issued a statement saying that the agency will “continue to protect those seeking to obtain or provide reproductive health services in accordance with our criminal and civil enforcement” known as the Freedom of Access to Clinic Admission Act. goes.
“The department will provide assistance from federal law enforcement when an abortion clinic or reproductive health center is attacked,” Garland said. “We’ve reached out to U.S. Attorney offices and FBI field offices in Texas and across the country to discuss our enforcement officers.”
The statements came shortly after the Supreme Court allowed Texas’ controversial abortion law to take effect. The law, one of the most restrictive in the country, prohibits abortion when a fetal heartbeat is detected, usually at around six weeks of pregnancy and before many people realize they are pregnant. There is no exemption in cases of rape or incest.
Contribution: Mabinty Quarshi and Courtney Subramaniam