An abortion rights activist holds a sign in support of Planned Parenthood at a rally at the Texas State Capitol on Sept. 11 in Austin, Texas. Late Wednesday a federal judge temporarily blocked enforcement of a Texas law that bans most abortions. Jordan Vonderhaar/Getty Images/TNS

Federal judge blocks Texas abortion ban

AUSTIN, Texas — A federal judge late Wednesday temporarily blocked enforcement of a Texas law that bans most abortions, delivering an early victory to the Biden administration in its legal challenge to the law.

In a 113-page ruling, U.S. District Judge Robert Pitman of Austin said the law is an “offensive deprivation of such an important right” and said state actors, including judges and court clerks, can no longer enforce its provisions.

“From the moment (the law) went into effect, women have been unlawfully prevented from exercising control over their lives in ways that are protected by the Constitution,” Pitman wrote.

The state is almost certain to appeal his decision to the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, and the case could eventually make its way to the U.S. Supreme Court. Previously, the nation’s highest court declined to intervene and stop the law from going into effect on Sept. 1.

The law prohibits most abortions after six weeks of pregnancy and allows any private individual to sue abortion providers or those who aid and abet procedures that violate the law. Successful litigants can collect $10,000.

Pitman said “people seeking abortions face irreparable harm when they are unable to access abortions” and that temporarily blocking Texas’ law from going into effect would allow abortions to proceed “at least for some subset of affected individuals.”

But it remains to be seen exactly how Pitman’s order will affect the availability of abortion in the state. As the law is drafted, abortion providers could still be liable for procedures performed while the law is temporarily blocked, assuming it is later allowed to go into effect.

Major abortion providers in the state have stopped offering procedures that could be in violation, citing the steep costs associated with successful litigation under the law as a deterrent.

Attorneys for the state argued in court Friday that emergency action from the court would not change the reality for providers, but Pitman said there “is no reason to assume providers will be so deterred.”

“But even if the desired chilling effect of this provision does materialize, such speculation is no reason for the Court to tie its own hands,” he wrote in the ruling.

Nancy Northup, president and chief executive officer of the Center for Reproductive Rights, said that the clinics represented by her organization planned to resume operations soon, “even though the threat of being sued retroactively will not be completely gone until SB 8 is struck down for good.”

“The cruelty of this law is endless,” she said in a statement.

At least two lawsuits have been filed under the law, both from out-of-state individuals who sued a San Antonio doctor for an abortion performed outside the confines of the ban. Dr. Alan Braid wrote about his decision to violate the law in an opinion piece for the Washington Post.

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