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Federal judge blocks Texas abortion ban, but “the fight is far from over”

“For 36 days, patients have lived in a state of panic, not knowing where or when they could have an abortion.”

Nancy Northup, President and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights

A rally for abortion rights in front of the Supreme Court in June 2016. On Wednesday, US District Judge Robert Pitman ruled that SB 8 was an unconstitutional violation of abortion rights established by Supreme Court cases . Roe vs. Wade and Casey v. Family planning. (Lorie Shaull)

A Texas federal district court on Wednesday temporarily blocked the state’s six-week abortion ban in a lawsuit filed by the US Department of Justice. Since the Supreme Court allowed the law to go into effect on September 1, the ban has forced most Texans to leave the state for abortion-related health care or pursue unwanted pregnancies. , while others manage abortions themselves by ordering pills online.

“This injunction is a critical first step in restoring abortion rights and services in Texas,” said Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights. “For 36 days, patients have lived in a state of panic, not knowing where or when they could have an abortion.”

In a 113-page decision, U.S. District Judge Robert Pitman in Austin ruled that the law – SB 8 – is an unconstitutional violation of the right to abortion established by the Supreme Court cases of Roe vs. Wade and Casey v. Family planning.

“Since the entry into force of SB 8, women have been unlawfully prevented from exercising control over their lives in a way that is constitutionally protected,” Pitman said. “This court will not sanction this offensive deprivation of such an important right one more day.”

US Attorney General Merrick Garland called the court ruling a “victory for the women of Texas and for the rule of law.”

On September 1, most clinics in Texas stopped offering abortion after six weeks. Planned Parenthood reported an 80% drop in patient numbers at its Texas clinics in the two weeks after SB 8 went into effect. Patients, if they had the resources, began to visit the hospitals. Neighboring states to obtain abortion-related health care. The Guttmacher Institute estimates that the law increased the average distance traveled to obtain an abortion fourteen times, from 17 miles to 247 miles.

Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey, who led 24 state attorneys general in filing a brief in support of the Department of Justice lawsuit, described the disastrous effects of the law.

“For weeks, patients in Texas were forced to travel thousands of miles to neighboring states to access a legal and safe abortion. They drove in the middle of the night in secret, lest the bounty hunters chase their friends and families. Those who cannot afford the trip have been forced into pregnancy by the state of Texas, forever changing the course of their lives. This law creates dangerous ripple effects for public health and the economy at the national level. “

The law makes no exceptions for rape or incest.

“A month ago, five Supreme Court justices shrugged their shoulders and allowed this horrific law to come into force,” said Brigitte Amiri, deputy director of the ACLU’s reproductive freedom project. “The result has been devastating: People who need abortion care and have the resources have been forced to flee the state and those who have neither the resources nor the ability to travel have been forced to stay pregnant. their will. The law has impacted the most marginalized the hardest, including people of color and youth. This fight is far from over and we are ready to do all we can to make sure that everyone can get the abortion care they need, regardless of where they live or what their income.

Hours after Pitman’s decision, the White House issued a statement.

“Tonight’s decision is an important step forward in restoring women’s constitutional rights throughout the state of Texas,” White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said. “SB 8 not only flagrantly violates the right to a safe and legal abortion established by Roe v. Wade, but he creates a regime that allows private citizens to interfere with this right and escape judicial review. “

The law attempts to put an end to the Constitution by empowering private citizens – even complete strangers – to prosecute anyone who helps another person obtain an abortion, rewarding them with $ 10,000 or more over the attorney’s fees. they win a case to be paid by the person being sued. By delegating the power to enforce the law to individuals, Texas is attempting to circumvent the Constitution because abortion rights are protected by the 14th Amendment, which applies to state action but not to private action.

As soon as Pitman’s decision was released yesterday, lawyers expressed concern that the decision would be overturned on appeal.

“While we are relieved that a court has finally blocked this unconstitutional law, today’s court order is only temporary,” Naples said. “This is not the end. We know the state of Texas will continue to defend this malicious ban.”

“While the court ruling offers a sigh of relief, the threat of an abortion ban in Texas still hangs over the state as cases continue to go to court. We already know that the politicians behind this law will stop at nothing until they completely ban abortion, ”Amiri said..

And of course, Texas immediately filed a notice that it would appeal Pitman’s decision to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, the court that previously allowed the law to come into effect in another. lawsuit filed by the Center for Reproductive Rights. Texas is expected to seek an immediate stay of Wednesday’s order.

But even with the law temporarily blocked, doctors still fear prosecution. SB 8 explicitly says that defendants sued under the law cannot rely on a decision blocking the law that is “set aside on appeal or by a subsequent court, even if that court decision was not overturned when the defendant has engaged in conduct that violates ”the law.

“The clinics and doctors we represent hope to resume full abortion services as soon as they can, although the threat of retroactive prosecution will not go away completely until SB 8 is permanently canceled,” he said. declared Naples. “The cruelty of this law is endless. “

Whole Woman’s Health, a network of abortion clinics, said it plans to resume abortions for up to 18 weeks “as soon as possible.”

Both Attorney General Merrick Garland pledged to continue the fight to uphold women’s constitutional right to abortion.

“It is the primary responsibility of the Department of Justice to defend the Constitution,” Garland said in a statement. “We will continue to protect constitutional rights against anyone who seeks to undermine them. “

The Supreme Court, which opened a new term on Monday, will plead Dec. 1 in an abortion case—Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization– to decide whether pre-viability abortion bans are unconstitutional. With Donald Trump’s three court appointments, advocates fear the new 6-3 anti-abortion qualified majority could be overturned Roe vs. Wade and end the constitutional right to abortion established almost 50 years ago. Meanwhile, the United States House of Representatives voted on September 24 to pass the Women’s Health Protection Act to protect abortion rights.

“The fight is only just beginning, both in Texas and in many states of this country where women’s rights are currently under attack,” Psaki said. “This is why the president supports the codification Roe vs. Wade, why he led a whole-of-government response to SB 8, and why he will continue to stand with women across the country to protect their constitutional rights.

“One day of SB 8 application was too much, let alone 36,” said Senator Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Chair of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Human Resources. retreats (HELP). “Make no mistake: extreme Republicans are still pushing to enforce the abortion ban in Texas, and across the country and in the Supreme Court, Roe deer is still online. We need to protect the right to abortion and ensure that everyone has control over their own body, and that starts with the passage of the Women’s Health Protection Act in the Senate.

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Cory E. Barnes

The author Cory E. Barnes

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