AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — A federal appeals court Friday night allowed Texas to temporarily resume banning most abortions, just one day after clinics across the state began rushing to serve patients again for the first time since early September.
Abortion providers in Texas had been bracing for the 5th U.S. Court of Appeals to act quickly, even as they booked new appointments and reopened their doors during a brief reprieve from the law known as Senate Bill 8, which bans abortions once cardiac activity is detected, usually around six weeks.
On Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Robert Pitman, an appointee of President Barack Obama, issued an order suspending the Texas law that he called an “offensive deprivation” of the constitutional right to an abortion. It came in response to a lawsuit filed by the Biden administration, which warned that other GOP-controlled states could rush to adopt similar measures.
But the New Orleans-based appeals court quickly granted Texas’ request to set aside Pitman’s order for now while the case is reviewed. It ordered the Justice Department to respond by Tuesday.
Texas had roughly two dozen abortion clinics before the law took effect Sept. 1, and not all Texas abortion providers resumed services while it was on hold. Many physicians had feared a swift reversal from the appeals court that risked putting them back in legal jeopardy.
The new law threatens Texas abortion providers with lawsuits from private citizens, who are entitled to collect at least $10,000 in damages if successful. That novel approach is the reason why courts had not blocked the law prior to Pitman’s ruling, since the state plays no role in enforcing the restrictions.
THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. AP’s earlier story follows below.
AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Texas on Friday asked a federal appeals court to swiftly reinstate the most restrictive abortion law in the U.S., which until this week had banned most abortions in the state since early September.
The request puts the Texas law known as Senate Bill 8 back before the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which previously allowed the restrictions to move forward.
Even after U.S. District Judge Robert Pitman suspended the law Wednesday, many physicians in Texas are still declining to perform abortions, worried that doing so could put them in legal jeopardy. The result is that abortion services in Texas — which had about two dozen clinics prior to the law taking effect Sept. 1 — remain far from normal, even with the law on hold.
The law bans abortions in Texas once cardiac activity is detected, usually around six weeks, and is enforced solely through lawsuits filed by private citizens against abortion providers — a novel approach that helped Texas evade an early wave of legal challenges.
Republican Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s office told the court that since the state does not enforce the law, it cannot “be held responsible for the filings of private citizens that Texas is powerless to prevent.”
His office asked the court to act by Tuesday, if not sooner.
Pitman had called the law an “offensive deprivation” of the constitutional right to an abortion. The lawsuit was brought by the Biden administration, which has warned that other GOP-controlled states may move to adopt similar measures unless the Texas law is struck down.
It is unclear how many abortions Texas clinics have performed in the short time since the law was put on hold. By Thursday, at least six abortions providers had resumed normal services or were gearing up to do so, according to the Center for Reproductive Rights.
Prior to Pitman’s blistering 113-page order, other courts had declined to stop the law, which bans abortions before some women even know they are pregnant. That includes the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and the 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.