Federal judge temporarily bars Texas from enforcing law that bans most abortions
A federal judge on Wednesday temporarily blocked Texas from enforcing the controversial abortion ban that bars the procedure as early as six weeks into pregnancy.
Judge Robert L. Pitman has granted the Department of Justice's motion for a temporary restraining order as the constitutionality of the law is further litigated in the courts.
"From the moment S.B. 8 went into effect, women have been unlawfully prevented from exercising control over their lives in ways that are protected by the Constitution," the order reads. "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."
Pitman has also denied the state's motion to dismiss the Justice Department's lawsuit challenging the law.
In his scathing 113-page ruling, Pitman takes the constitutionality of the Texas law head-on, writing that it is "substantially likely" that courts will find that S.B. 8 violates the Fourteenth Amendment. Citing multiple comments and testimonies from clinicians and patients alike, the judge ruled the law places an "undue burden" on women seeking abortion in Texas and thus violates their rights.
"If this situation does not constitute an undue burden," as the State of Texas argues, "it is hard to imagine what would," Pitman added.
The judge concludes such a burden has already and will continue to cause "irreparable harm" to those seeking abortions.
"People seeking abortions face irreparable harm when they are unable to access abortions; these individuals are entitled to access to abortions under the U.S. Constitution; S.B. 8 prevents access to abortion," the Court explains, ruling in favor of granting the Department of Justice's request for a temporary pause in the law's enforcement.
The state of Texas filed notice with the court that it plans to appeal Wednesday's ruling to the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals.
Texas' abortion law, which went into effect in September, is among the nation's most restrictive. In addition to outlawing abortion once embryonic cardiac activity is detected, which can happen as early as six weeks into a pregnancy — before many women know they're pregnant — the measure allows private citizens to bring civil lawsuits against anyone who provides an abortion after that point or helps a woman access the procedure, such as a friend who drives a woman to obtain an abortion, or clinic staff. Those found in violation of the law are required to pay at least $10,000 to the person who successfully brought the suit.
Pitman has ordered the state of Texas to notify all state judges and state court employees impacted by Wednesday's decision and to "publish this preliminary injunction on all of its public-facing court websites with a visible, easy-to-understand instruction to the public that S.B. 8 lawsuits will not be accepted by Texas courts."
In a statement, Planned Parenthood said it was "grateful" for the ruling, and that it would continue to fight the ban in court.
"While this fight is far from over, we are hopeful that the court's order blocking S.B. 8 will allow Texas abortion providers to resume services as soon as possible," said Alexis McGill Johnson, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood, in a statement.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki called the ruling "an important step forward toward restoring the constitutional rights of women across the state of Texas." In a statement she said, "The fight has only just begun, both in Texas and in many states across this country where women's rights are currently under attack."
The Justice Department sued Texas on September 9, eight days after the law went into effect, and sought a temporary freeze against S.B. 8. The department argued during an October 1 hearing that the measure violates the U.S. constitution and contradicts longstanding U.S. Supreme Court precedent that protects "pre-viability abortions."
In a statement Wednesday night, Attorney General Merrick Garland praised the ruling, saying it is a "victory for women in Texas and for the rule of law." Garland said the Justice Department will "continue to protect constitutional rights against all who would seek to undermine them."
White House chief of staff Ron Klain tweeted Wednesday that Pittman's ruling is a "big win for the Biden administration — and the constitution — in federal court tonight." President Biden last month called the law "extreme" and said it "blatantly violates the constitutional right established under Roe v. Wade and upheld as precedent for nearly half a century."
The U.S. Supreme Court declined to stop the law from going into effect, but has not ruled on its constitutionality.
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