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Judge blocks Texas abortion ban, says effort was unconstitutional ‘scheme’

In a 113-page order filed late Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Robert Pittman temporarily halted enforcement of the extreme and controversial Texas “fetal heartbeat” abortion bill, and he did not mince words in his detailed ruling.

The law as it stood before it was enjoined banned abortion when even the slightest cardiac activity is detectable, usually at about six weeks of pregnancy. However, most women are unaware that they are pregnant at that early stage. The law made no exceptions for cases of rape or incest. 

Texas Senate Bill 8 also empowered private citizens to sue anyone seen as helping a woman obtain an abortion, whether they perform the procedure, provide financial assistance or just give the woman a ride to visit an abortion provider. The lawsuit plaintiffs would not need to prove any personal connection to the pregnant woman.

Pittman awarded the preliminary injunction in a case brought against the state by the U.S. Department of Justice under Attorney General Merrick Garland, who applauded the judge’s decision Wednesday night. In a statement issued after the order was filed, Garland said:

“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. We will continue to protect constitutional rights against all who would seek to undermine them.”  

The abortion ban became effective on Sept. 1, but it has been met with widespread protest, legislative countermeasure attempts and several lawsuits since Texas Gov. Greg Abbott signed it into law in May.   

Pittman took serious issue with the law itself and, equally, how Texas went about passing it.

In the order issued Wednesday, the judge said:

“A person’s right under the Constitution to choose to obtain an abortion prior to fetal viability is well established. With full knowledge that depriving its citizens of this right by direct state action would be flagrantly unconstitutional, the State contrived an unprecedented and transparent statutory scheme whereby it created a private cause of action in which private citizens with no personal interest in or connection to a person seeking an abortion would be able to interfere with that right using the state’s judicial system, judges, and court officials.”

He continued:

“Rather than challenging the right to abortion via the appropriate process of judicial review, the State went so far as to draft the law in such a way as to attempt to preclude a review of the constitutionality of the statute by federal courts who have responsibility to safeguard the very rights the statute likely violates.”

He expressed concern that the “statutory scheme” Texas resorted to would be used as a “model” for other states and made clear his order is intended to dissuade those efforts.

It is likely Texas will appeal the ruling in the Fifth Circuit. To that end, Pittman offered these closing words:

“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. 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.”

Pittman’s order can be read here in its entirety.

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