At least six Texas clinics resumed abortion services Thursday or were gearing up to offer them again after a federal judge halted the most restrictive abortion law in the country. But other physicians remained hesitant, afraid the court order would not stand for long and thrust them back into legal jeopardy.
Other courts had declined to stop the law, which bans abortions before some women even know they are pregnant. But U.S. District Judge Robert Pitman suspended the law known as Senate Bill 8 late Wednesday evening, which since early September had banned abortions once any cardiac activity is detected, usually around six weeks.
There were roughly two dozen abortion clinics operating in Texas before the law took effect on September 1st. Planned Parenthood, the state’s largest abortion provider, did not say Thursday whether it had resumed abortions, stressing the ongoing uncertainty and the possibility of an appeals court quickly reinstating the law in the coming days. Fund Choice Texas, which covers travel expenses for women seeking abortions, was still receiving a high volume of calls Thursday from patients needing help to make out-of-state appointments.
The Texas law also leaves enforcement solely up to private citizens, who are entitled to collect $10,000 in damages if they bring successful lawsuits against not just abortion providers who violate the restrictions, but anyone who helps a woman obtain an abortion. Republicans crafted the law in a way designed to also allow retroactive lawsuits if the restrictions are set aside by one court, but later put back in place by another.
A federal judge has sided with Biden's Justice Department and paused Texas' highly restrictive abortion bill, known as S.B. 8. pic.twitter.com/GRf5HExgUk
— NowThis (@nowthisnews) October 7, 2021
Judge Pitman’s order landed the first legal blow to Senate Bill 8, which had withstood several earlier challenges. In the weeks since the restrictions took effect, Texas abortion providers said the impact had been “exactly what we feared.” In the opinion, Pitman took Texas to task, saying Republican lawmakers had “contrived an unprecedented and transparent statutory scheme” by trying to evade judicial review.
BREAKING in United States v. Texas: Judge Pitman issued a preliminary injunction temporarily barring enforcement of Texas' controversial abortion ban — known as SB-8 — which has banned most abortions since September and sent women searching for out-of-state care. pic.twitter.com/ZW3wW3MK9j
— Nicole Sganga (@NicoleSganga) October 7, 2021
“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,” wrote Pitman, who was appointed to the bench by former President Barack Obama. “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.”
U.S. District Judge Robert Pitman:
"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." https://t.co/HPW67fdx1R pic.twitter.com/HUxNO027yG
— NPR (@NPR) October 7, 2021
The Texas law is just one that has set up the biggest test of abortion rights in the U.S. in decades, and it is part of a broader push by Republicans nationwide to impose new restrictions on abortion. On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court began a new term, which in December will include arguments in Mississippi’s bid to overturn 1973’s landmark Roe v. Wade decision guaranteeing a woman’s right to an abortion.