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Federal judge puts Texas abortion ban on hold



John Burger - published on 10/07/21 - updated on 10/07/21

Judge Pitman excoriates state for "offensive deprivation of such an important right."

Calling it an “offensive deprivation of such an important right,” a federal judge has blocked enforcement of Texas’ abortion ban, five weeks after it went into effect.

Responding to a request from the Biden Administration, Judge Robert L. Pitman of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas put a temporary hold on Senate Bill 8’s enforcement while litigation over the law makes its way through federal courts. 

S.B. 8 bans abortion after the point when a fetal heartbeat is detected — which occurs around six weeks gestation. The statute precludes public officials from enforcing it, leaving ordinary citizens as the sole “enforcers.”  

“The law authorizes only private citizens to bring civil suit in Texas state court against those who perform, aid and abet abortions after a fetal heartbeat is detected,” said Notre Dame law professor O. Carter Snead. “Women seeking abortions are immune from suit, and there is an exception for medical emergencies.”

Pitman, in his opinion Wednesday, said that from the moment S.B. 8 went into effect, “women have been unlawfully prevented from exercising control over their own lives in ways that are protected by the Constitution.” 

Texas Right to Life Senior Legislative Associate Rebecca Parma said in an email to Aleteia that Pitman’s ruling “shows the extreme prejudice motivating his decision.”

“The ruling is wildly broad, preventing Texas state officials from enforcing the law, including the shocking order to block every Texas judge and court clerk from even receiving lawsuits filed by citizens against the abortion industry,” Parma said. “This is the legacy of Roe v. Wade: Judges catering to the abortion industry, crafting a conclusion first and then searching the depths of legal literature for a rationale later.”

While Texas announced that it would appeal the ruling, there is an air of caution among those who perform abortions and support the procedure’s legality. S.B. 8 contains a provision saying that those who perform or aid and abet abortions can be sued retroactively, even if the procedure was done while the law was on legal hold.

John Seago, legislative director for Texas Right to Life, told the New York Times: “S.B. 8 says if an injunction is dismissed, you are still accountable for abortions you did while you were protected by that injunction.”

Nancy Northup, president and chief executive of the Center for Reproductive Rights, said in a statement that clinics her group represents “hope to resume full abortion services as soon as they are able, even though the threat of being sued retroactively will not be completely gone until S.B. 8 is struck down for good.”

The law, signed by Gov. Greg Abbot in May, went into effect in early September after the United States Supreme Court declined to block it. An unsigned 5-4 opinion said the abortion clinics who had challenged the law had not made their case.

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