Days after thousands rallied in Santa Barbara and beyond in support of reproductive rights, a federal judge on Wednesday blocked Texas’ near-total ban on abortion by granting a Justice Department request to halt enforcement of the law.
U.S. District Judge Robert Pitman in Austin, Tex., ordered the state on Wednesday to suspend its restrictive abortion law, which prohibits women from obtaining an abortion after cardiac activity is detected (usually around six weeks of pregnancy). The law, known as Senate Bill 8, allows private citizens to file reports and lawsuits against abortion providers who violate the restrictions and, in turn, receive up to $10,000 in damages.
In his 113-page ruling, the judge sided with the Biden administration, who sued Texas on Sept. 9 and sought a temporary injunction, arguing that it violated the U.S. Constitution. The Biden administration’s action came after the U.S. Supreme Court set the legislation in motion on Sept. 1 in a 5-4 vote against blocking the law.
Judge Pitman criticized the law in his ruling, writing that Texas “contrived an unprecedented and transparent statutory scheme” to limit a person’s Constitutional right to obtain an abortion prior to fetal viability.
“From the moment SB 8 went into effect, women have been unlawfully prevented from exercising control over their lives in ways protected by the Constitution,” the judge wrote. “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.”
Very soon after the ruling, Texas officials notified the court that they intend to appeal the ruling to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, plunging the state into the next phase of legal battles.
In response to Wednesday’s ruling, reproductive rights activists and care providers praised the judge’s decision as the first step toward restoring abortion access for women in Texas.
But many also noted that threats to reproductive freedom remain.
“The action of the US District Court for the Western District of Texas granting a preliminary injunction is an important, if potentially temporary, victory,” Luz Reyes-Martín, the vice president of community engagement for Planned Parenthood California Central Coast, told the News-Press in a statement. “But there remain significant threats to abortion rights across the country. For 36 days, abortion access has been decimated as Roe v. Wade became effectively meaningless for countless Texans. Most abortion patients in Texas have been forced to travel out of state for care or continue their pregnancy against their will.”
Ms. Reyes-Martín added that the “doors are open” to serve patients with reproductive healthcare at Planned Parenthood California Central Coast, and the organization will work to ensure this access remains available.
“We are proud to have a governor and state legislative leaders that support access to reproductive care,” Ms. Reyes-Martín said. “We will continue to work tirelessly to ensure that access to reproductive health care — including abortion — remains in California.”
The Women’s March organization, which spearheaded hundreds of protests across the nation last Saturday, wrote in a series of tweets that the organization is celebrating Wednesday’s ruling while also acknowledging that “the fight isn’t over.”
“Texas will appeal. Which means the law could be back in place soon,” the organization tweeted. “But we know this — hundreds of thousands of us showed up last weekend for abortion justice, and we’re not done yet.”
Texas’ abortion legislation is just one of several laws that have set the stage for the biggest challenge against abortion rights in the U.S. in decades.
On Monday, the Supreme Court began its new term, which will include arguments in a case involving a Mississippi law that bans abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy. Mississippi has asked the court to overturn Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 decision the guaranteed a women’s right to abortion across the nation. The court is scheduled to hear this case Dec. 1.