AUSTIN, Texas (AP) – Abortions quickly resumed in at least six clinics in Texas on Thursday after a federal judge ruling the most restrictive abortion law in the United States, but other doctors remained hesitant, fearing the court order might not last long and put them in legal danger.
It’s unclear how many abortions Texas clinics rushed to perform in the 24 hours after U.S. District Judge Robert Pitman suspended the law known as Senate Bill 8, which since beginning September, banned abortions once cardiac activity was detected., usually about six weeks.
Prior to the dazzling 113-page order Wednesday night, other courts refused to stop the law, which bans abortions before some women even know they are pregnant.
“There is actually hope on the part of the patients and the staff, and I think there is a little bit of hopelessness in that hope,” said Amy Hagstrom Miller, president of Whole Woman’s Health, which operates four clinics in Texas. She said some of those clinics performed abortions on Thursday, but did not disclose how many.
“People know this opportunity may be short-lived,” she said.
By all accounts, the decision did not usher in a quick return to normal in Texas.
At least six clinics in Texas resumed their abortion services on Thursday or were preparing to offer them again, said Kelly Krause, spokesperson for the Center for Reproductive Rights. There were about two dozen abortion clinics in Texas before the law came into effect on September 1.
Planned Parenthood, the state’s largest abortion provider, did not say Thursday whether it had resumed abortions, pointing to continued uncertainty and the possibility that an appeals court would quickly restore the law in the cases. next days. Fund Choice Texas, which covers travel expenses for women seeking abortions, still received a high volume of calls Thursday from patients needing help making out-of-state appointments.
The 20 calls were normal volume last month, said executive director Anna Rupani. She said her organization – which has helped Texas women travel as far as Seattle and Los Angeles – was still discussing whether it would help a patient get an abortion in Texas even with a court injunction in place.
Texas law leaves enforcement to private citizens only, who are entitled to collect $ 10,000 in damages if they successfully sue not only abortion providers who violate the restrictions, but anyone. who helps a woman get an abortion. Republicans designed the law to also allow retroactive prosecutions if restrictions are overturned by one court, but then reinstated by another.
“What is really frustrating … is that this law was drafted to create confusion, and this law was drafted to create problems,” Rupani said. “It is unfortunate that we have an injunction, and people have yet to understand the legal ramifications of what it means to them.”
Texas Republican Attorney General Ken Paxton’s office notified the state’s intention to appeal, but had yet to do so on Thursday.
“We are confident that the courts of appeal will agree that every child with a heartbeat should have a chance to live,” said Renae Eze, spokesman for Republican Gov. Greg Abbott, who signed the law in May..
Hagstrom Miller said his Texas clinics called some patients who were on a list Thursday morning in case the law was blocked at some point. More appointments were scheduled for the coming days, and the phone lines were busy again. But some of the 17 clinics’ doctors still refused to perform abortions, fearing they would be held accountable despite the judge’s order.
Pitman’s Order was the first legal blow to Senate Bill 8, who had withstood a wave of previous challenges. In the weeks after the restrictions took effect, Texas abortion providers said the impact had been “exactly what we feared.”
In the opinion, Pitman took Texas to task, saying Republican lawmakers had “put in place an unprecedented and transparent legislative regime” in an attempt to evade judicial review.
“Since the entry into force of SB 8, women have been unlawfully prevented from exercising control over their lives in a way that is constitutionally protected,” wrote Pitman, who was appointed to the bench by the former President Barack Obama.
“It is up to them to decide that other courts can find a way to avoid this conclusion; this Court will not sanction one more day this injurious deprivation of such an important right.
The lawsuit was brought by the Biden administration, who said the restrictions were enacted in defiance of the U.S. Constitution. Attorney General Merrick Garland called the order a “victory for women in Texas and for the rule of law.”
Abortion providers say their fears have come true in the short time the law came into effect. Planned Parenthood says the number of patients of Texas in its state clinics fell nearly 80% in the two weeks after the law came into effect.
Some providers said clinics in Texas are now at risk of closing as neighboring states struggle to cope with a surge of patients who has to drive hundreds of kilometers for an abortion. Other women, they say, are forced to carry their pregnancies to term.
The number of abortions performed in Texas since the law came into effect is unknown. State health officials say additional reporting requirements under the law will not make September data available on its website until early next year.
Other states, mostly in the South, have passed similar laws banning abortion in the first weeks of pregnancy, all of which judges have blocked. A 1992 U.S. Supreme Court ruling prevented states from banning abortion before viability, the point at which a fetus can survive outside the womb, around 24 weeks gestation.
But the Texas version has so far defied the courts because it leaves the execution to private citizens to sue, not prosecutors, which critics say amounts to a bounty.
The Texas law is just the one that has set up the biggest test of abortion rights in the United States in decades, and it’s part of a larger push by Republicans nationwide to impose new restrictions on abortion.
Monday, Supreme Court of the United States began a new term, which in December will include arguments in Mississippi’s attempt to overthrow Landmark Roe v. Wade of 1973 guaranteeing a woman’s right to an abortion.
Last month, the court did not rule on the constitutionality of Texas law by allowing it to remain in place. But abortion providers took the 5-4 vote as a worrying sign on the direction the abortion court could take after its Tory majority was bolstered by three people named by former President Donald Trump .
Stengle contributed from Dallas.