Federal Judge Blocks Texas Abortion Law — For Now

Participants in the recent women's march in Houston argued for control over their own bodies.
Participants in the recent women's march in Houston argued for control over their own bodies. Photo by Violeta Alvarez
”Labeling it an "unprecedented and transparent statutory scheme," a federal judge Wednesday issued an order blocking the new Texas abortion law — at least for now — which means that abortion providers can resume their activities in the state if they feel confident enough to do so.

Predictably, the opinion by Judge Robert Pittman was hailed by pro-choice groups and assailed by anti-abortion advocates who credit the new "heartbeat"  law which effectively shut down abortion in the state with saving the lives of an untold number of fetuses. And the state has already filed its notice of appeal of the judge's ruling.

Since the September 1 implementation of the law, abortion providers in nearby states such as Oklahoma have said they've seen an influx of women from Texas desperate for their services. President Joe Biden's administration had urged the courts to block the Texas abortion law, the most restrictive in the country.

The new law allows anyone who knows of an abortion that has taken place to sue anyone involved in effecting that procedure — the abortion clinics, the doctors, the nurses, the person who might drive someone to an abortion — after a fetal heartbeat has been detected for up to $10,000. It has been termed a six-week ban because that is when a heartbeat can typically be detected. This is also before most women know they are pregnant.

By constructing the law the way they did by embuing individual citizens rather than government officials with its enforcement, legislators sidestepped the usual judicial review and made it a financial or civil court matter.

In his 113-page ruling, Pittman wrote that the Texas law was "an unprecedented and aggressive scheme to deprive its citizens of a significant and well-established constitutional right."

What added to the outrage among many people about the bill was first that there were no exemptions in the case of rape or incest and then that Gov. Greg Abbott's insistence on Fox News  that this would not change.

Texas Democratic Party Co-Executive Director Hannah Roe Beck issued the following statement:

“Texas Democrats are celebrating the news of a temporary injunction to Abbott’s dystopian abortion ban. This ban is uniquely harmful, exceptionally cruel, and blatantly unconstitutional — and since this ban took effect, people across our state are facing unconscionable obstacles to important health care and gutted access to their constitutional rights. I’m incredibly grateful to the federal government for stepping in, doing the right thing, and suing Texas’ Republican government to block this ban.
“This injunction is an important step, but because it’s temporary, abortion rights are far from safe in the state of Texas. Texas Democrats continue to urge Congress to codify Roe v. Wade and ensure abortion rights are finally, fully protected for all Americans. In 2021, it’s an outrage that a handful of conservative politicians are still meddling in our right to make the most important, intimate decisions about our lives. Advocates have been fighting tooth and nail to protect Texans’ right to access abortion, and Texas Democrats — and people across Texas and around the country — have been rising up alongside them. We will not go back.”
"We are deeply disappointed by Judge Pitman's actions today," said Joe Pojman, Ph.D., Texas Alliance for Life's executive director.

"Every day since September 1 that the law has been in effect has been a tremendous victory for unborn children who would otherwise have lost their lives to abortion. We are hopeful that this is not the last word and that the Fifth Circuit will reverse Judge Pitman's order. At the same time, the State of Texas provides vast resources to women with unplanned pregnancies through the Alternatives to Abortion program funded at $100 million for the next two years. That program will assist 150,000 women a year and provide services for three years after the births of their children. Additionally, hundreds of privately funded non-profit organizations and church-based programs provide services to pregnant women through birth and beyond."
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Margaret Downing is the editor-in-chief who oversees the Houston Press newsroom and its online publication. She frequently writes on a wide range of subjects.
Contact: Margaret Downing