Federal judge temporarily blocks Texas abortion ban
Just over a month after Texas’ near-total abortion ban went into effect, a federal judge blocked enforcement of the law known as SB 8, which bans women access an abortion after six weeks of pregnancy.
The preliminary injunction ordered by U.S. District Judge Robert Pitman in Austin prevents the state government from enforcing the law, siding with the Department of Justice in the September 9 lawsuit, claiming that the ban violated the Constitution. The Supreme Court did not rule on the constitutionality of SB 8, allowing the law to run by 5-4 on October 1.
Debate over the law has largely focused on its “vigilance” enforcement structure, which allows individuals to sue anyone who performs an abortion after six weeks, recovering legal fees and $ 10,000 in “damages.” if they win the case. The bizarre mechanism bypasses usual legal avenues to overturn severe abortion restrictions, as Vox’s Ian Millhiser explains:
[I]If Texas passed a law requiring the state medical board to revoke their medical license from all abortion providers, a plaintiff could sue the medical board. If a state passed a law requiring state police to block abortion clinics, a plaintiff could sue the state police chief.
Part of what makes SB 8 such a bizarre law is that it doesn’t allow all state official to apply it. On the contrary, the law provides that it “will be executed exclusively by … private civil actions”.
In his opinion on Wednesday, Pitman wrote that Republicans in Texas had “developed an unprecedented and transparent legislative regime” in an attempt to “thwart judicial review for as long as possible.”
“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,” added Pitman. “This court will not sanction one more day this serious deprivation of such an important right.” The situation on the ground confirms his claim: According to Planned Parenthood, the number of Texans in its state clinics fell nearly 80% in the first two weeks of September.
The ordinance represents a temporary setback for Republicans seeking to restrict access to abortion in Texas and provide a model for copy laws in other GOP-controlled states. In a hearing before Judge Pitman last week, an attorney for the Texas attorney general argued that if the law was blocked, the state would appeal an injunction to the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals for United States, conservative. In August, the New Orleans Court of Appeals rejected an emergency motion to block SB 8.