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Judge orders Texas to suspend new law banning most abortions


Reported By PAUL J. WEBER

Read more at https://apnews.com/article/abortion-us-supreme-court-business-texas-courts-5eb085acee67615da3623212953220c9

FILE - In this Sept. 1, 2021, file photo, women protest against the six-week abortion ban at the Capitol in Austin, Texas. A federal judge on Wednesday, Oct. 6 ordered Texas to suspend the most restrictive abortion law in the U.S., which since September has banned most abortions in the nation's second-most populous state. (Jay Janner/Austin American-Statesman via AP, File)
FILE – In this Sept. 1, 2021, file photo, women protest against the six-week abortion ban at the Capitol in Austin, Texas. A federal judge on Wednesday, Oct. 6 ordered Texas to suspend the most restrictive abortion law in the U.S., which since September has banned most abortions in the nation’s second-most populous state. (Jay Janner/Austin American-Statesman via AP, File)

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — A federal judge on Wednesday ordered Texas to suspend the most restrictive abortion law in the U.S., 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 by U.S. 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. In the weeks since the restrictions took effect, Texas abortion providers say the impact has been “exactly what we feared.”

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. The law, signed by Republican Gov. Greg Abbott in May, prohibits abortions once cardiac activity is detected, which is usually around six weeks, before some women even know they are pregnant.

“From the moment S.B. 8 went into effect, women have been unlawfully prevented from exercising control over their lives in ways that are protected by the Constitution,” wrote Pitman, who was appointed to the bench by former President Barack Obama.

“That other courts may find a way to avoid this conclusion is theirs to decide; this Court will not sanction one more day of this offensive deprivation of such an important right.”

But even with the law on hold, abortion services in Texas may not instantly resume because doctors still fear that they could be sued without a more permanent legal decision. Planned Parenthood said it was hopeful the order would allow clinics to resume abortion services as soon as possible.

Texas officials swiftly told the court of their intention to seek a reversal from the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which previously allowed the restrictions to take effect.

The lawsuit was brought by the Biden administration, which has said the restrictions were enacted in defiance of the U.S. Constitution. Attorney General Merrick Garland called the order “a victory for women in Texas and for the rule of law.”

The law had been in effect since Sept. 1.

“For more than a month now, Texans have been deprived of abortion access because of an unconstitutional law that never should have gone into effect. The relief granted by the court today is overdue, and we are grateful that the Department of Justice moved quickly to seek it,” said Alexis McGill Johnson, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Federation of America.

Texas Right to Life, the state’s largest anti-abortion group, said the order was not unexpected.

“This is ultimately the legacy of Roe v. Wade, that you have activist judges bending over backwards, bending precedent, bending the law, in order to cater to the abortion industry,” said Kimberlyn Schwartz, a spokeswoman for the group. “These activist judges will create their conclusion first: that abortion is a so-called constitutional right and then work backwards from there.”

Abortion providers say their fears have become reality in the short time the law has been in effect. 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. Some providers have said that 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. Other states, mostly in the South, have passed similar laws that ban abortion within the early weeks of pregnancy, all of which judges have blocked. A 1992 decision by the U.S. Supreme Court prevented states from banning abortion before viability, the point at which a fetus can survive outside the womb, around 24 weeks of pregnancy.

But Texas’ version had so far outmaneuvered the courts because it leaves enforcement to private citizens to file suits, not prosecutors, which critics say amounts to a bounty.

“This is not some kind of vigilante scheme,” said Will Thompson, counsel for the Texas Attorney General’s Office, while defending the law to Pitman last week. “This is a scheme that uses the normal, lawful process of justice in Texas.”

The Texas law is just one that has set up the biggest test of abortion rights in the U.S. in decades, and it is part of a broader push by Republicans nationwide to impose new restrictions on abortion.

On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court began a new term, which in December will include arguments in Mississippi’s bid to overturn 1973’s landmark Roe v. Wade decision guaranteeing a woman’s right to an abortion. Last month, the court did not rule on the constitutionality of the Texas law in allowing it to remain in place. But abortion providers took that 5-4 vote as an ominous sign about where the court might be heading on abortion after its conservative majority was fortified with three appointees of former President Donald Trump.

Ahead of the new Supreme Court term, Planned Parenthood on Friday released a report saying that if Roe v. Wade were overturned, 26 states are primed to ban abortion. This year alone, nearly 600 abortion restrictions have been introduced in statehouses nationwide, with more than 90 becoming law, according to Planned Parenthood.

Texas officials argued in court filings that even if the law were put on hold temporarily, providers could still face the threat of litigation over violations that might occur in the time between a permanent ruling.

At least one Texas abortion provider has admitted to violating the law and been sued — but not by abortion opponents. Former attorneys in Illinois and Arkansas say they sued a San Antonio doctor in hopes of getting a judge who would invalidate the law.

___

Associated Press writer Jamie Stengle in Dallas contributed to this report

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott signs fetal heartbeat bill banning abortion as early as 6 weeks


Reported By Ryan Foley, Christian Post Reporter| Wednesday, May 19, 2021

Read more at https://www.christianpost.com/news/texas-enacts-fetal-heartbeat-bill-to-ban-abortion-at-6-weeks.html/

Greg Abbott signing Senate Bill 8
Gov. Greg Abbott, R-Texas, signs Senate Bill 8 into law, which bans abortions after a fetal heartbeat can be detected, usually around six weeks gestation. | Screenshot: Facebook Watch/Office of the Governor Greg Abbott

Texas has become the latest and largest state to enact a “heartbeat bill” that would ban abortion after a fetal heartbeat can be detected, which is usually at around six weeks gestation.

“Our Creator endowed us with the right to life,” Texas’ Republican Gov. Greg Abbott proclaimed as he signed Senate Bill 8 into law Wednesday. “Yet, millions of children lose their right to life every year because of abortion. In Texas, we want to save those lives.”

Slated to go into effect on Sept. 1, Senate Bill 8 states that “a physician may not knowingly perform or induce an abortion on a pregnant woman if the physician detected a fetal heartbeat for the unborn child.” Physicians are also prohibited from performing an abortion if they failed to perform an ultrasound to detect a fetal heartbeat.

The bill also allows individuals to take civil action against an abortionist who “performs or induces an abortion” and any person who “knowingly engages in conduct that aids or abets the performance or inducement of an abortion, including paying for or reimbursing the costs of abortion through insurance or otherwise.” 

At the signing ceremony, Abbott praised the Texas Legislature for crafting a bipartisan bill “that ensures that the life of every unborn child who has a heartbeat will be saved from the ravages of abortion.” The governor also thanked the Legislature, singling out the bill’s authors, Sen. Bryan Hughes and Rep. Shelby Slawson. In addition, he expressed gratitude for the pro-life groups who “worked tirelessly during the course of the session to make sure this bill got passed,” thanking them for “everything they do to cultivate a culture of life in Texas.” 

The crowd gathered around Abbott erupted into cheers and applause after he signed the bill. After he declared that “the Texas heartbeat bill is now law in the Lone Star State,” more cheers and applause broke out.

Senate Bill 8 passed the Texas House of Representatives on May 6 by a vote of 83–64 and the Texas Senate approved the measure, with House amendments, on May 13 by a vote of 18–13. In both chambers, one Democrat broke from his party to support the legislation, which no Republican opposed. 

Pro-life groups quickly praised Abbott for signing Senate Bill 8, with Texas Right to Life predicting that the measure will “save thousands of lives,” characterizing it as “a vital step in the road to abolishing all abortions in Texas.” While praising the legislation as a “landmark victory,” the pro-life advocacy group urged the state Legislature to embrace additional pro-life measures before the legislative session concludes. 

Meanwhile, pro-abortion groups slammed the measure and vowed to fight it. Alexis McGill Johnson, the president of Planned Parenthood, the largest abortion provider in the U.S., described Senate Bill 8 as “cruel and extreme.” 

Johnson expressed particular concern that the bill includes “a dangerous provision that allows ANYONE from any state to sue an abortion provider and others who help someone get care.” She cited the law as proof that “access to abortion has never been more at risk,” promising that “we’re going to fight back like hell.” 

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Heartbeat bills have previously faced resistance from the judicial branch in several states, including MississippiGeorgia and Missouri. Abbott’s signing of Senate Bill 8 comes two days after the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to take up a case involving Mississippi’s 15-week abortion ban. The case has major implications for the pro-life movement as the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion nationwide nears its 50th anniversary.

The passage of Senate Bill 8 comes as Texas House Republicans face criticism for failing to consider a bill that would ban sex changes for children younger than 18 years of age. With less than two weeks to go, the Texas Senate approved a similar measure that still awaits approval from the House. The push to pass such a bill comes as the state’s 87th Legislative Session is scheduled to come to an end in less than two weeks. 

Senate Bill 8 is one of several pro-life state laws signed into law so far this year. Late last month, the pro-abortion Guttmacher Institute released a report finding that more than 500 pro-life bills had been filed in the first four months of 2021, with 61 of those bills becoming law. 

In addition to the legislative action taking place at the state level, individual communities in Texas have taken steps to protect the right to life. Two dozen Texas cities have declared themselves “sanctuary cities for the unborn,” completely outlawing abortion at the local level. Earlier this month, the city of Lubbock, Texas, became the largest “sanctuary city for the unborn” in the country. The city of more than 200,000 people faced a lawsuit shortly thereafter. 

Ryan Foley is a reporter for The Christian Post. He can be reached at: ryan.foley@christianpost.com

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