Court Reinstates Restrictive Texas Abortion Ban While Legality Remains in Question

The U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals made the ruling in a 2-1 vote.

Credit: Getty Images
Credit: Getty Images

The U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Thursday ruled that Texas’s highly restrictive law banning abortions after six weeks can remain in place while its legality is questioned, a move signifying the rejection of the Justice Department’s request to pause its implementation.

Texas Federal District Court Judge Robert Pitman issued a suspension of the law on October 6, citing that it stopped women “from exercising control over their lives.” Less than two days later, the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reinstated the law.

The Thursday order, which was the result of a 2-1 vote, consisted of only four sentences: “The emergency motions to stay the preliminary injunction pending appeal are granted for the reasons stated in Whole Woman’s Health v. Jackson, 13 F.4th 434 (5th Cir. 2021), and Whole Woman’s Health v. Jackson, 141 S. Ct. 2494 (2021). Judge Stewart dissents. The appeal is expedited. The Clerk will schedule this case for oral argument before the same panel that will hear the appeal in Whole Woman’s Health v. Jackson, No. 21-50792.”

The law, which is called S.B. 8, or the “heartbeat bill,” went into effect in August of this year and bans abortions after six weeks of pregnancy — a time when many women don’t even know they’re pregnant. Under S.B. 8, cases of incest or rape are not considered exceptions. The bill also allows any Texas citizen, including complete strangers, to sue abortion providers or any other group that helps provide abortions. Those who help others seek abortions can be taken to court and fined at least $10,000.

In September, the Justice Department sued the state of Texas, claiming that the way the restrictive law was enforced violates the U.S. Constitution. “Those precedents hold, in the words of Planned Parenthood v. Casey, that ‘regardless of whether exceptions are made for particular circumstances, a state may not prohibit any woman from making the ultimate decision to terminate her pregnancy before viability,’” Attorney General Merrick Garland said.

The law seems to have pushed people seeking abortions to look for proper care out of state rather than eliminating abortions entirely. Texas natives seeking abortion providers in Oklahoma have jumped 133%, according to Planned Parenthood. New Mexico providers have seen a 67% increase in patients coming from Texas.

Lawmakers in the U.S. have enacted more anti-abortion laws this year than any other year. State legislators have passed at least 90 anti-abortion laws in 2021, breaking the previous record of 89 restrictive abortion laws passed in 2011. The push for these anti-choice policies was prompted by a conservative shift made by Former Pres. Donald Trump in the Supreme Court.

In the immediate aftermath of the federal appeal, the Department of Justice announced today that it will ask the Supreme Court to block Texas’s restrictive abortion measure. SCOTUS will now determine the fate of S.B. 8, and whether or not it will remain in effect.