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Texas abortion law stays in place after federal appeals court sides with the state

Texas' controversial abortion law will remain in place for the time being, after a federal appeals court on Thursday granted the state's request to suspend a federal judge's ruling that barred it from being enforced. The brief ruling is a blow to abortion rights advocates, who had hoped to suspend the law for as long as possible while its constitutionality is debated in the courts. 

The three-judge panel on the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals voted 2-1. The Department of Justice, which sued Texas over the law, is able to appeal the decision.  

Texas' law, which bars abortions as early as six weeks into pregnancy, poses unique legal challenges. The law does not allow state officials to enforce the ban — instead, private citizens can file civil lawsuits against clinics, providers or people who help a woman get an abortion. If the civil suit is successful, the plaintiff is entitled to at least $10,000 from the person who broke the law. That mechanism makes it harder for abortion providers to challenge the law, because it's not entirely clear who they should be suing.

Abortion rights advocates won a temporary victory in early October, when a federal judge granted a preliminary injunction that prevented the law from being enforced. In a 113-page ruling, Judge Robert L. Pitman said it is "substantially likely" that courts will find that the law, known as S.B. 8, violates the Fourteenth Amendment.

"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," he 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."

But soon after, Texas appealed that ruling to the 5th Circuit. Last Friday — just two days after the preliminary injunction was issued — the court agreed to temporarily suspend the preliminary injunction while it considered Texas' appeal. 

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