Abortion in Texas doesn’t fully resume despite judge’s ruling

At least six clinics in Texas returned to perform abortions on the day a federal judge blocked the imposition of the nation’s most restrictive abortion measure, but a majority did not, a reflection of the law’s power. Was.

The novel law banning most abortions in the state after cardiac activity is detected, approximately six weeks into the pregnancy, continues to control many clinics. Planned Parenthood, whose Texas affiliate operates seven centers offering abortion services, said Thursday it was not doing abortions restricted under the measure, despite the ruling.

The law, which went into effect last month, has changed the landscape of the abortion fight through a unique design that makes it particularly difficult to challenge in court by enforcing it on citizens, not states. On Wednesday night, US District Court Judge Robert L. Pittman sided with the Justice Department, which sued to block enforcement of the law.

But after weighing the risks, most abortion clinics in the state—there are about 24 across Texas—have decided not to resume abortions on women whose pregnancies exceed six weeks because of one of the law’s unique features. Gone: Clinics can be prosecuted retrospectively for up to four years for any abortions they provide while the remedy is blocked.

“Today we are not scheduling abortion appointments over the past six weeks while we explore what is possible,” said Inthe Metzger, a spokesperson for the Planned Parenthood Federation of America.

She said the situation was fluid.

“The status quo on the ground has not changed today,” she said on Thursday, “but it could be tomorrow,” based on conversations with affiliated clinics with her lawyers and staff members.

Kelly Cross, a spokeswoman for the Center for Reproductive Rights, which represents the clinics in court, said at least six clinics in Texas had either been providing abortions for the past six weeks as of Thursday, or for women soon after the procedure. scheduling appointments.

Four of them are operated by Whole Woman Health. Group chief executive Amy Hagstrom Miller said late Wednesday, employees began calling women who had previously signed consent forms and complied with Texas’ 24-hour waiting period for abortions.

“We were able to see some people today at 8, 9 am,” she said on Thursday, noting that she had miscarried.

She also said that staff members at the clinic were scheduling an abortion for Friday. He said doctors at other independent clinics in the state have also started scheduling patients whose pregnancies have passed six weeks for abortions, but declined to say how many or which clinics have .

Still, the clinics face an uphill battle. The state of Texas has already notified the US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, one of the most conservative courts in the country, that it will appeal. Legal experts said the suspension by Judge Pittman, who was appointed by President Barack Obama in 2014, could be overturned relatively soon, possibly within days.

For some clinics, it was too high a risk.

“We look forward to restarting abortion care the moment we feel the relief is sustainable,” said Jeffrey Honors, president and chief executive of Planned Parenthood South Texas.

The odds are good — but not certain — that Fifth Circuit judge will freeze Pittman’s injunction, said Stephen Vladeck, a law professor at the University of Texas at Austin. But he added that this would not be the end of the saga.

“It’s just the next act in the play,” he said.

The national fight over abortion has reached a critical point. The Supreme Court, in its new term that began this week, will soon consider a 15-week ban in Mississippi, the first full argument in the abortion case to be heard by the court’s new six-to-three conservative majority.

There is a chance the court may overturn Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 case that established abortion as a constitutional right. If that happens, abortion will be illegal in at least 11 states where lawmakers have passed legislation that will take effect if Roe falls, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a research group advocating abortion rights. .

“I think it’s fair to say that Roe v. Wade is in the most distress since 1973,” said B. M., a law professor at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland. Jesse Hill, who has represented abortion clinics in federal affairs. . “It would be hard to say how much things are about to change.”

The Texas law is unique in that it forbids the state to enforce it, and instead deputizes ordinary citizens to prosecute anyone who performs abortion or “aids and abets”. If successful, they get $10,000. This feature makes it difficult to challenge in court as there is no single entity responsible for enforcement. The result has been a ban on nearly all abortions in the state, since the law, called the Heartbeat Act, went into effect on September 1.

Guttmacher’s policy expert Elizabeth Nash said lawmakers in about 20 other states have either expressed interest in or started work on counterfeiting bills.

Anti-abortion activists in Texas said they are confident that Judge Pittman’s decision will not immediately raise abortion numbers to the level seen before the law. National anti-abortion organization Susan B. Anthony List said in a statement Wednesday that the Texas measure “saved more than 4,700 babies.”

Chelsea Youman, Texas state director of the Human Coalition, an anti-abortion group, said she felt “hopeful and confident” that the Fifth Circuit would rule in its favor.

John Seago, the legislative director of Texas Right to Life, the largest anti-abortion group in the state, said his organization was closely watching what clinics were saying in Texas, but it was waiting to gather evidence and make a case. Will do will be strong. And it will take time, he said.

“I’m not running for court,” he said. Still, he added: “We’re not going to sit this out. The real question is timing and if we have evidence then when is the right time to file a lawsuit.”

Abortion opponents have another avenue under the law — to sue in federal court. Claimants must be from a state other than Texas and the legal battle they were fighting must be at least $75,000, which means in this case at least eight abortions could be considered illegal under the law, one The obstacle which Mr. Vladeck argued made this path impossible.

Mr. Vladeck said there was a possible scenario in which this Texas case goes to the Supreme Court and is currently associated with the Mississippi case; If so, the court could issue a double judgment that formally barred Roe from eliminating Mississippi’s 15-week ban and Texas’s six-week ban with its novel procedural approach. can remove.

“If you’re Chief Justice Roberts, that’s an elegant solution,” he said, referring to John G. Roberts Jr. “It looks like an increasingly tempting way to split the difference.”

Edgar Sandovali Contributed reporting from San Antonio.

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