US Judge Temporarily Blocks Texas' Six-Week Abortion Ban Following Biden White House Challenge
00:43 GMT 07.10.2021 (Updated: 03:13 GMT 07.10.2021)
A federal judge in Texas has ordered a suspension of SB 8, the state's near-total ban on abortions, following a legal challenge brought by the Biden administration.
The order, issued Wednesday evening by US District Judge Robert Pittman, temporarily enjoins the law that took effect in Texas last month, which prohibits abortions as early as six weeks after conception, while litigation over its legality and consitutionality continues.
"This is an important victory in the still long fight ahead," the American Civil Liberties Union tweeted in response to the ruling.
The order comes after the US Supreme Court allowed the law to take effect, signaling to many that the court was willing to contravene or even overturn the 1973 Roe vs. Wade ruling, a high court ruling that established the legal right to an abortion and laid out how it could be regulated.
After the law was allowed to stand by the Supreme Court, the Biden administration announced a "whole-of-government" response, bringing the legal case before a federal court last week.
The Texas government, dominated by the Republican Party, asked the judge to allow the law to continue functioning while the legal battle plays out.
"The state has forfeited the right to any such accommodation by pursuing an unprecedented and aggressive scheme to deprive its citizens of a significant and well-established constitutional right," Judge Pittman wrote in his ruling.
"From the moment SB 8 went into effect, women have been unlawfully prevented from exercising control over their lives in ways that are protected by the Constitution," he continued. "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."
Shortly after the ruling was made public, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki released a statement calling the determination "an important step forward toward restoring the constitutional rights of women across the state of Texas."
"S.B. 8 not only blatantly violates the right to safe and legal abortion established under Roe v. Wade, but it creates a scheme to allow private citizens to interfere with that right and to evade judicial review," the release reads. "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 law bans pregnant people from getting abortions if a series of electrical impulses from where a fetus heart would form is detectable, which can occur as little as five weeks after conception - well before most women know that they are pregnant.
Abortion rights advocates note that the severely restrictive law will prevent as many as 85% of abortions. Roe vs. Wade banned any regulation of abortion during the first trimester of pregnancy, which lasts until 13 weeks, beyond requiring that it be performed by a licensed doctor in medically safe conditions.
Another thing that makes the GOP-sponsored SB 8 unique is that it can be enforced by third-party lawsuits, allowing anyone to sue anyone who “aids and abets” an abortion, even if the plaintiff is totally unconnected to the woman receiving the abortion. The only exception is that the father of the child cannot be the plaintiff.
In response to the law, congressional Democrats moved to codify Roe vs. Wade in US law, passing the Women's Health Protection Act through the House on September 24. However, it is highly unlikely to pass in the Senate, where Republicans can block it using the filibuster, which requires a 60-vote supermajority to override.