Texas to appeal judge’s ruling blocking near-total abortion ban

Women’s rights groups welcomed judge’s decision but warn it could be overturned by conservative-held Supreme Court.

Women's rights groups and progressive activists are fighting to protect the Supreme Court's 1973 Roe v Wade decision that legalises abortion nationwide [File: Kevin Dietsch /Getty Images via AFP]

Texas has said it plans to appeal a federal judge’s decision that temporarily blocked a near-total ban on abortion in Texas, the toughest such law in the United States.

The ruling by US District Judge Robert Pitman in Austin on Wednesday prevents the state from enforcing the Republican-backed law, which prohibits women from obtaining an abortion after six weeks of pregnancy, while litigation over its legality continues.

“This Court will not sanction one more day of this offensive deprivation of such an important right,” Pitman, who was appointed by former President Barack Obama, said in the decision.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said on Thursday that the state would appeal Pitman’s ruling to the New Orleans-based US Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, a conservative-leaning body that previously allowed the Texas abortion ban to proceed.

“The sanctity of human life is, and will always be, a top priority for me,” Paxton said in a tweet.

The case is part of a fierce legal battle over access to abortion in the US, with numerous states trying to enforce restrictions on the procedure.

President Joe Biden’s administration brought forward a challenge to the Texas law after the US Supreme Court had allowed it to go into effect.

Whole Woman’s Health, a group that advocates for women’s right to choose on abortion, had welcomed Pitman’s decision saying: “No more Texans should have to suffer under this cruel ban.”

But the group noted that the block is only temporary, adding “we still have a long road ahead”.

‘Anti-abortion bounty hunters’

Biden’s Justice Department sued Texas on September 9 and sought a temporary injunction against the law, arguing during an October 1 hearing that the measure violates the US Constitution.

The US Supreme Court on September 1 allowed the law to take effect in a 5-4 vote led by conservative justices.

At six weeks of pregnancy, many women do not even know they are pregnant. The law makes no exceptions for pregnancies caused by rape or incest.

The Texas law enables citizens to enforce the ban, rewarding them with at least $10,000 if they successfully sue anyone who helps provide an abortion after foetal cardiac activity is detected. Critics of the law have said this provision lets people act as anti-abortion bounty hunters.

The Justice Department argued that the law impedes women from exercising their constitutional right to terminate a pregnancy that was recognised in the Supreme Court’s Roe v Wade decision. The 1973 landmark ruling legalised abortion across the US.

Pro-abortion rights demonstrators argue outside of the US Supreme Court in March as justices hear a key abortion case on the legality of a Republican-backed Louisiana law that imposes restrictions on abortion doctors [File: Tom Brenner/Reuters]

The department also argued that the law improperly interferes with the operations of the federal government to provide abortion-related services.

Texas Governor Greg Abbott, a Republican, has defended the legality of the state’s abortion law, with this office saying in a statement: “The most precious freedom is life itself.”

Planned Parenthood said the preliminary injunction means lawsuits filed under the law cannot be accepted by Texas courts.

“The relief granted by the court today is overdue, and we are grateful that the Department of Justice moved quickly to seek it,” Planned Parenthood CEO Alexis McGill Johnson said in a statement.

Johnson said she was hopeful the injunction will allow Texas abortion providers to resume services as soon as possible.

US conservatives have long sought to have Roe v Wade overturned.

In December, the Supreme Court hears arguments in a separate case involving a Mississippi law that bans abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy. Mississippi has asked the high court to overturn the 1973 precedent.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies