AUSTIN, Oct. 9 (US): A federal appeals court quickly allowed Texas Friday night to resume a ban on most abortions, just a day after clinics began racing to serve patients again for the first time since early September, The Associated Press (AP) reports . .
A one-page order from the Fifth Circuit of the US Court of Appeals brought back the nation’s strictest abortion law, which bans abortions once cardiac activity is detected, usually in about six weeks. There are no exceptions in cases of rape or incest.
“Patients are being sent back into chaos and fear,” said Nancy Northup, president of the Center for Reproductive Rights, which represents several Texas clinics that have briefly resumed regular abortion services.
The US Supreme Court called for “intervention to stop this madness.”
Clinics prepared for the New Orleans Court of Appeals to act quickly after US District Judge Robert Pittman, appointed by President Barack Obama, on Wednesday suspended a Texas law he called an “abusive denial” of the constitutional right to abortion. Knowing that this demand might not last long, a handful of Texas clinics immediately started performing abortions again after six weeks and booked new appointments this weekend.
But barely 48 hours passed before the appeals court accepted Texas’ request to overturn Pittman’s ruling – at least for the time being – pending further arguments. The Biden administration, which filed the lawsuit, was given until Tuesday to respond.
“Great news tonight,” Texas Republican Attorney General Ken Paxton wrote on Twitter. “I will fight federal abuse at every turn.”
Texas had nearly two dozen abortion clinics before the law went into effect on September 1. During the short period in which the law was suspended, many Texas doctors remained unwilling to perform abortions, fearing that doing so would put them at legal risk.
The new law threatens Texas abortion providers with lawsuits from private citizens, who would be entitled to charge at least $10,000 in compensation if successful. This new approach to enforcement is why Texas was able to evade an earlier wave of legal challenges before this week.
The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals had already once allowed the law to go into effect in September, and intervened just hours after Paxton’s office urged them to act.
His office told the court that since the state does not enforce the law, it cannot be “held responsible for the filings of private citizens that Texas cannot prevent.”
It’s unclear how many abortions Texas clinics have performed in the short time the law has been suspended. On Thursday, at least six abortion providers have resumed regular services or were preparing to do so, according to the Center for Reproductive Rights.
Before Bateman’s 113-page order, other courts refused to stop the law, which prohibits abortions even before some women know they are pregnant. That includes the Supreme Court, which allowed it to move forward in September without adjudicating its constitutionality.
One of the first providers to resume normal services this week was Whole Woman’s Health, which operates four clinics in Texas.
Amy Hagstrom-Miller, president of Whole Women’s Health, said her clinics called up some patients early Thursday who were on a list in a state-banned state at some point. Other appointments were in the process of being scheduled for the coming days, and the phone lines were busy again. But some 17 doctors in the clinics still refuse to perform abortions due to legal risks.
Pittman’s order was the first legal blow to a law known as Senate Act 8. In the weeks after the restrictions took effect, Texas abortion providers said the effect was “exactly what we feared.”
Planned Parenthood says the number of Texans in its clinics in the state fell by about 80% in the two weeks after the law went into effect. Some providers said Texas clinics are now at risk of closing while neighboring states struggle to keep up with a wave of patients who have to drive hundreds of miles to have an abortion.
They say other women are being forced to carry on with pregnancies.
How many abortions have been performed in Texas since the law went into effect is unknown. State health officials say additional reporting requirements under the law won’t make the September data available on its website until early next year.
A 1992 US Supreme Court decision prevented states from banning abortion before the fetus was viable, the point at which the fetus can survive outside the womb, around 24 weeks of gestation. But the Texas version has so far outperformed the courts because it leaves enforcement for private citizens to sue, not to prosecutors, which critics say amounts to a bonus.
“This is an answered prayer,” said Kimberlyn Schwartz, a spokeswoman for Texas Right to Life, the state’s largest anti-abortion group.