Abortions quickly resumed in at least six Texas clinics after a federal judge overturned the strictest abortion law in the United States, but other doctors continued to hesitate, fearing that the court order would not last long and put them in legal danger again.
It was unclear how many abortions in Texas clinics were rushed on Thursday after US District Judge Robert Pitman suspended a law known as Senate Act No. 8, which has banned abortion upon detection of heart activity since early September, usually for about six weeks.
Before a staggering 113-page ruling was issued late Wednesday night, other courts refused to repeal a law that bans abortion even before some women know they are pregnant.
“There is actually hope from patients and staff, and I think there is a bit of despair in that hope,” said Amy Hagstrom Miller, president of Whole Woman’s Health, which operates four clinics in Texas. She said some of these clinics had abortions on Thursday, but did not say how many.
“People know this opportunity can be short-lived,” she said. By all accounts, this decision did not lead to a quick return to normalcy in Texas.
At least six Texas clinics have resumed abortion services on Thursday or are preparing to offer them again, said Kelly Krause, a spokeswoman for the Center for Reproductive Rights. Before the law went into effect on September 1, there were about two dozen abortion clinics in Texas.
Planned Parenthood, the state’s largest provider of abortions, did not say Thursday if it was resuming abortions, highlighting continued uncertainty and the possibility that an appeals court would quickly reinstate the law in the coming days. Fund Choice Texas, which covers the travel costs of women seeking an abortion, continued to receive many calls on Thursday from patients seeking assistance to make an out-of-state appointment.
According to executive director Anna Rupani, 20 calls were a normal volume in the last month. She said her organization, which has helped Texas women travel as far as Seattle and Los Angeles, is still debating whether it will help a patient get an abortion in Texas, even if an injunction is imposed locally.
Texas law only leaves private individuals to comply with the law, who have the right to recover $ 10,000 in damages if they file successful lawsuits not only against abortionists who violate restrictions, but also against anyone who helps a woman to have an abortion. … Republicans drafted the law to allow retroactive lawsuits if restrictions were lifted by one court but later enacted by another.
“What’s really frustrating is … this law was drafted to create confusion, and this law was drafted to create problems,” Rupani said. “It’s a shame that we have an injunction and people still have to understand the legal implications of what this means to them.”
Texas Republican Attorney General Ken Paxton’s office sent notice of the state’s intention to file an appeal, but has not yet done so on Thursday.
“We are confident that the courts of appeal will agree that every child with a beating heart should have a chance at life,” said Renee Eze, spokesman for Republican Gov. Greg Abbott, who signed the law in May.
Hagstrom Miller said her clinics in Texas called in some patients early Thursday morning who were on the list in case the law gets blocked at some point. More appointments were made for the coming days, and the phone lines were busy again. But some of the clinic’s 17 doctors continued to refuse to have abortions for fear of being prosecuted despite a judge’s order.
Pitman’s order was the first legal blow to Senate Bill # 8, which weathered a wave of previous objections. A few weeks after the restrictions went into effect, abortion providers in Texas said the impact was “exactly what we feared.”
In that conclusion, Pitman drew Texas’ attention to the response, saying that Republican lawmakers “have come up with an unprecedented and transparent statutory scheme” in an effort to avoid judicial oversight.
“Since SB 8 went into effect, women have been unlawfully prohibited from exercising control over their lives in ways protected by the Constitution,” wrote Pitman, who was appointed to the dock by former President Barack Obama.
“That other courts can find a way to avoid this conclusion, it is up to them to decide; this Court will not authorize another day of this insulting deprivation of such an important right. “
The lawsuit was filed by the Biden administration, which said the restrictions were in violation of the US Constitution. Attorney General Merrick Garland called the order “a victory for the women of Texas and the rule of law.”
Abortion providers say their fears became reality in a short time when the law went into effect. Planned Parenthood reports that the number of patients from Texas at state clinics has decreased by almost 80% in two weeks after the law went into effect.
Some service providers said that Texas clinics are now under threat of closure, while neighboring states are struggling to keep up with the large number of patients traveling hundreds of miles to get an abortion. According to them, other women are forced to carry out childbirth before the deadline.
How many abortions have been performed in Texas since the law went into effect is unknown. State health officials say September data will not be available on their website until early next year due to additional reporting requirements under the law.
Other states, mostly in the south, have passed similar laws banning abortion in the first weeks of pregnancy, all of which have been blocked by judges. A 1992 U.S. Supreme Court decision barred states from banning abortion until viability, when the fetus can survive outside the womb, around 24 weeks of gestation.
But the Texas version has so far beaten the courts because it retains the right to sue private citizens rather than prosecutors, which critics say is tantamount to a reward.
Texas law is just one that has become the most severe test of abortion rights in the United States in decades, and is part of a broader effort by Republicans across the country to impose new restrictions on abortion.
On Monday, the US Supreme Court began a new term, which in December will include arguments in a Mississippi motion to overturn the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision guaranteeing a woman the right to an abortion.
Last month, a court did not rule on the constitutionality of the Texas law, allowing it to remain in effect. But abortion providers took those 5-4 votes as an ominous sign of where the court might go over abortion after its conservative majority was bolstered by former President Donald Trump’s three appointees.