UNITED STATES: A U.S. federal judge on Wednesday issued an order to temporarily block the near-total ban on abortion in Texas, dealing the first legal blow against the contentious law and throwing its future into uncerainty.
The law, known as Heartbeat Act or Senate Bill 8, banned most abortions in the nation’s second-most populous state, which called for protests and widespread hullabaloo all over U.S. and withstood a wave of early challenges.
“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,” U.S. District Judge Robert Pitman said in the decision, granting a request from the Justice Department, which implemented the lawsuit.
“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.”
The decision by Judge Robert L. Pitman is likely to be appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit and then could go to the Supreme Court.
Wednesday’s ruling, which stems from a challenge brought by the Biden administration, will prevent the state from enforcing the Republican-backed law while litigation over its legality continues. But even with the law on hold, abortion services in Texas may not instantly resume because doctors still fear that they could as per the law be sued for practicing abortion without a more permanent legal decision.
The law, signed by Republican governor Greg Abbott in May, prohibits abortions once cardiac activity is detected, which is usually around six weeks, i.e. before even someone can know they are pregnant. The law also permits private citizens to file lawsuits against violators and doctors, and has entitled them to at least $10,000 in damages if successful.
When Attorney General Merrick Garland announced that the Justice Department was bringing a lawsuit of its own, he said that this “unprecedented” design seeks “to prevent women from exercising their constitutional rights by thwarting judicial review for as long as possible.”
Garland celebrated the decision Wednesday, saying in a statement that “today’s ruling enjoining the Texas law is 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,” the attorney general continued. “We will continue to protect constitutional rights against all who would seek to undermine them.”