Update: Just two days after Texas' restrictive ban on abortion was suspended, a three-judge appeals court panel has put that ban back in place, at least for now. The New York Times reports the "terse ruling" on the ban, which bars the procedure after about six weeks of pregnancy, came down late Friday from the US Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit, which has given the Justice Department until Tuesday to respond to the appeal. Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton had requested the appeals court reverse the earlier injunction, per the Washington Post, which notes the new ruling is temporary and could end up putting the case back before the US Supreme Court. Our original story from Thursday follows:
A federal judge ordered Texas to suspend the most restrictive abortion law in the US, calling it an "offensive deprivation" of a constitutional right by banning most abortions in the nation's second-most populous state since September. The order Wednesday by US District Judge Robert Pitman is the first legal blow to the Texas law known as Senate Bill 8, which until now had withstood a wave of early challenges, the AP reports. In a 113-page opinion, Pitman took Texas to task over the law, saying Republican lawmakers had "contrived an unprecedented and transparent statutory scheme" by leaving enforcement solely in the hands of private citizens, who are entitled to collect $10,000 in damages if they bring successful lawsuits against abortion providers who violate the restrictions.
But even with the law on hold, abortion services in Texas may not instantly resume because doctors still fear they could be sued without a more permanent legal decision. Texas officials swiftly told the court of their intention to seek a reversal from the 5th US Circuit Court of Appeals, which previously allowed the restrictions—which ban abortions after around six weeks of pregnancy, when cardiac activity can be detected—to take effect. The lawsuit was brought by the Biden administration, which has said the restrictions were enacted in defiance of the US Constitution.
Attorney General Merrick Garland called the order "a victory for women in Texas and for the rule of law." In the weeks since the restrictions took effect, Texas abortion providers say the impact has been "exactly what we feared." Planned Parenthood says the number of patients from Texas at its clinics in the state decreased by nearly 80% in the two weeks after the law took effect Sept. 1. Some providers have said Texas clinics are now in danger of closing, while neighboring states struggle to keep up with a surge of patients who must drive hundreds of miles. Other women, they say, are being forced to carry pregnancies to term. (Read more Texas stories.)