US appeals court lets Texas temporarily resume banning most abortions
AUSTIN, Texas - 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
The law bans abortions in Texas
Republican Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton's office
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.
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
One of the first providers to resume normal services was Whole Woman's Health, which operates four clinics in Texas.
"There’s actually hope from patients and from staff, and I think there’s a little desperation in that hope," Amy Hagstrom Miller, president of Whole Woman's Health, said Thursday. "Folks know this opportunity could be short-lived."
The Texas law 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 to allow retroactive lawsuits if the restrictions are set aside by one court, but later restored by another.
Hagstrom Miller said her Texas clinics called in some patients early Thursday who were on a list in case the law was blocked at some point. Other appointments were being scheduled for the days ahead, and phone lines were again busy. But some of the clinics' 17 physicians were still declining to perform abortions, fearful they might be held liable despite the judge’s order.
Pitman's order amounted to the first legal blow to
Pitman took Texas to task in his opinion.
"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.
Abortion providers say their fears have become reality in the short time that the law has been in effect. Planned Parenthood says the
Some providers have said Texas clinics are now in danger of closing while neighboring states struggle to keep up with a
How many abortions have been performed in Texas since the law took effect is unknown.
A 1992 decision by the U.S. Supreme Court prevented states from banning abortion before viability, the point at which a fetus can survive outside the womb, around 24 weeks of pregnancy. But Texas’ version had so far outmaneuvered the courts because it leaves enforcement to private citizens to file suits, not prosecutors, which critics say amounts to a bounty.
Associated Press Writer Jamie Stengle contributed from Dallas.