AUSTIN, Texas (AP) – On Friday night, a federal appeals court quickly allowed Texas to resume the ban on most abortions, just a day after clinics began running to serve patients again for the first time since early September. A one-page order by the 5th U.
AUSTIN, Texas (AP) – On Friday night, a federal appeals court quickly allowed Texas to resume the ban on most abortions, just a day after clinics began running to serve patients again for the first time since early September.
A one-page order from the U.S. 5th Court of Appeals restored the country’s strictest abortion law, which prohibits abortions once heart activity is detected, typically around six weeks. There are no exceptions for rape or incest.
“The patients are thrown back into a state of chaos and fear,” said Nancy Northup, president of the Center for Reproductive Rights, which represents several clinics in Texas that have briefly resumed normal abortion services.
She called on the US Supreme Court to “step in and stop this madness”.
Clinics had braced for the New Orleans Court of Appeals to act swiftly after U.S. District Judge Robert Pitman, appointed by President Barack Obama, suspended Texas law on Wednesday which he called of “offensive deprivation” of the constitutional right to an abortion. Knowing the order might not hold for long, a handful of clinics in Texas immediately resumed performing abortions beyond six weeks and made new appointments for the weekend.
But barely 48 hours passed before the appeals court accepted Texas’ request to overturn Pitman’s decision – at least for now – pending further arguments. He gave the Biden administration, which had filed the lawsuit, until Tuesday to respond.
“Great news tonight,” tweeted Texas Republican Attorney General Ken Paxton. “I will fight the federal government’s excess at every turn.”
Texas had about two dozen abortion clinics before the law came into effect on September 1. During the brief period that the law was suspended, many Texas doctors remained reluctant to perform abortions, fearing it would still put them in legal danger.
The new law threatens Texas abortion providers with lawsuits from private citizens, who are entitled to at least $ 10,000 in damages if successful. This new approach to enforcement is why Texas was able to escape a previous wave of court challenges ahead of this week.
The 5th Circuit appeals court had previously allowed the law to go into effect once in September and came just hours after Paxton’s office urged them to act.
His office told the court that since the state does not enforce the law, it cannot “be held responsible for statements by private citizens that Texas is powerless to prevent.”
It is not known how many abortions Texas clinics performed during the short period the law was suspended. As of Thursday, at least six abortion providers had resumed their normal services or were preparing to do so, according to the Center for Reproductive Rights.
Prior to Pitman’s 113-page order, other courts had refused to stop the law, which bans abortions before some women even know they are pregnant. This includes the Supreme Court, which allowed it to move forward in September without ruling on its constitutionality.
One of the first providers to resume normal services this week was Whole Woman’s Health, which operates four clinics in Texas.
Amy Hagstrom Miller, president of Whole Woman’s Health, said her clinics called some patients who were on a list Thursday morning in case the law was blocked at some point. More appointments were being scheduled for the next few days, and the phone lines were busy again. But some of the 17 doctors at the clinics still refused to perform abortions because of legal risk.
Pitman’s ordinance was the first legal blow to Senate Bill 8. In the weeks after the restrictions took effect, Texas abortion providers said the impact had been “exactly what we feared.”
Planned Parenthood says the number of Texas patients at its state clinics declined by nearly 80% in the two weeks after the law came into force. Some providers have said clinics in Texas are now at risk of closing as neighboring states struggle to cope with a wave of patients who have to travel hundreds of miles to have an abortion.
Other women, they say, are forced to carry their pregnancies to term.
The number of abortions performed in Texas since the law came into effect is unknown. State health officials say additional reporting requirements under the law will not make September data available on its website until early next year.
A 1992 U.S. Supreme Court ruling prevented states from banning abortion before viability, the point at which a fetus can survive outside the womb, around 24 weeks gestation. But the Texas version has so far defied the courts, as it leaves the execution to private citizens to sue, not prosecutors, which critics say amounts to a bounty.
“It’s a prayer answered,” said Kimberlyn Schwartz, spokesperson for Texas Right to Life, the state’s largest anti-abortion group.
Associated Press writer Jamie Stengle contributed from Dallas.
Paul J. Weber, The Associated Press