Federal judge stays near-total abortion ban in Texas

Published : October 08, 2021 13:23 IST

President Joe Biden's administration argues that the Texas abortion law is unconstitutional. Photo: Reuters

A district judge ordered Texas to suspend its law that imposes a near-total ban on abortions. The ruling comes after a challenge brought by President Joe Biden's administration.

A U.S. federal judge on October 6 temporarily blocked Texas from enforcing a controversial law that bans most abortions in the State.

The Republican-backed law, which went into effect on September 1, imposes a near-total ban on abortions in Texas, making it the toughest legislation of its kind in the United States. Texas officials had created an "unprecedented and aggressive scheme to deprive its citizens of a significant and well-established constitutional right," said U.S. District Judge Robert Pitman in Austin.

"This Court will not sanction one more day of this offensive deprivation of such an important right," he said in his 113-page ruling. The suit had been brought by President Joe Biden's administration where it sought a temporary injunction, arguing the restrictions violated the U.S. Constitution.

U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland welcomed Wednesday's ruling as "a victory for women in Texas and for the rule of law." "It is the foremost responsibility of the Department of Justice to defend the Constitution. We will continue to protect constitutional rights against all who would seek to undermine them," he said.

White House welcomes 'important step'

News of the ruling was also well received by the White House, welcoming it as "an important step toward restoring the constitutional rights of women across the state of Texas." Spokeswoman Jen Psaki said in a statement: "The fight has only just begun, both in Texas and in many states across this country where women's rights are currently under attack."

The Press Secretary said that President Biden "will continue to stand side-by-side with women across the country to protect their constitutional rights." The Texas law known as Senate Bill 8, had withstood early legal challenges, and was allowed to go into effect by the U.S. Supreme Court in a 5-4 vote powered by conservative justices.

What is the law?

It prohibits women from obtaining an abortion as soon as an embryo's heartbeat is detectable. This is usually after six weeks of pregnancy, at which point many women are unaware they are pregnant. The law does not make exceptions in the cases of incest or rape.

A unique aspect of the Texas law is that it allows ordinary citizens to enforce the ban by empowering them to sue a person who has assisted in an abortion. The State also entitles them to rewards of at least $10,000 (€8,650) if the lawsuit is successful. Critics have raised concerns over this provision, saying it encourages people to act as anti-abortion bounty hunters.

What happens next?

Abortion services may not immediately resume in Texas as many doctors fear they may get sued, even without a permanent legislation in effect. While Texas officials did not react to the ruling, they are likely to appeal and seek a swift reversal of the order. The Texas law is one of the biggest challenges to abortion rights that the US has seen in decades.

Similar laws have been struck down in recent years because they were in violation of a landmark 1973 ruling. The Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade decision almost 50 years ago guaranteed a woman's right to an abortion. Conservatives have long sought to have Roe v. Wade overturned.

In December, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments in a separate case involving a Mississippi law that forbids abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy. Mississippi has called upon the high court to overturn the 1973 precedent.

adi, kb/jsi (AP, AFP, Reuters)

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