A judge in Texas has blocked officials from enforcing a dormant 1925 abortion ban that the US state’s Republican attorney general said was back in effect after the United States Supreme Court overturned the constitutional right to the procedure nationwide.
Judge Christine Weems issued the temporary restraining order on Tuesday after a last-ditch effort by abortion providers to resume services after the Supreme Court overturned the landmark 1973 Roe v Wade ruling on Friday.
The order was confirmed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the Center for Reproductive Rights, which represented the abortion providers. Abortion performed at up to the sixth week of pregnancy can now resume in Texas at some clinics, the legal groups said.
“Every hour that abortion is accessible in Texas is a victory,” Marc Hearron, a lawyer at the Center for Reproductive Rights, said in a statement.
“Every day that clinics can remain open will save countless people from the life-altering risks and consequences of forced pregnancy,” the ACLU also said on Twitter.
Texas last year enacted one of the nation’s most restrictive abortion bans, barring people from undergoing the procedure after six weeks of pregnancy – a point at which many do not know they are pregnant. That law, which also allows people to sue anyone who facilitates an abortion, took effect in September.
Tuesday’s decision came amid a flurry of litigation by abortion rights groups seeking to slow or halt Republican-backed restrictions on the ability of women to terminate pregnancies – restrictions that are now taking effect or are poised to do so in 22 states.
On Monday, a judge in the US state of Louisiana temporarily blocked a so-called “trigger” abortion ban from coming into effect, after an abortion clinic sued alleging the restrictions violated due process and were too vague.
Texas is one of more than a dozen US states that had such “trigger” laws on the books, which were designed to take effect after Roe was overturned.
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton issued an advisory note (PDF) after the Supreme Court’s decision, saying the state’s 2021 trigger ban, which bars abortions almost entirely, would not take immediate effect. Providers say that could take two months or more.
But Paxton said that prosecutors could choose to immediately pursue criminal cases “based on violations of Texas abortion prohibitions predating Roe”.
“Although these statutes were unenforceable while Roe was on the books, they are still Texas law. Under these pre-Roe statutes, abortion providers could be criminally liable for providing abortions starting today,” his note read.
Today's historic decision is the culmination of generations of Pro-Life activism in defense of the unborn.
Texas' laws are clear – abortion is now unlawful in the Lone Star State.
I will work tirelessly to ensure our laws are fully enforced and Life is protected in Texas.
— Attorney General Ken Paxton (@KenPaxtonTX) June 24, 2022
Meanwhile, abortion providers in Texas have said that if the laws are blocked, they will continue to provide services.
“We are already contacting patients on our waiting lists and working on resuming abortion services in all our 4 Texas clinics as quickly as possible,” Whole Woman’s Health, an independent abortion provider, said on Twitter on Tuesday afternoon.
“Keep in mind, Texas still enforces a two-visit requirement and a 24-hour waiting period, as well as the 6 week ban and other restrictions. Even with these obstacles, our clinics staff are ready and eager to welcome patients back,” the group said.
A further hearing is scheduled for July 12.
Paxton said on Tuesday afternoon that he planned to immediately appeal the judge’s “wrong” decision. “The judge’s decision is wrong. I’m immediately appealing. I’ll ensure we have all the legal tools to keep TX pro-life!” he tweeted.