Stephen Spillman / AP
The U.S. 5th appeals court overturned a lower federal court ruling temporarily preventing Texas from enforcing its abortion ban after just six weeks of pregnancy.
The Justice Department now has until October 12 to respond to the ruling, and the ban will remain in place until then.
Texas was allowed to keep its Abortion Act, Senate Act 8, in place for about five weeks before a lower court intervened. During that time, providers said they had been forced to turn down hundreds of those seeking abortion.
Because most people don’t realize they are pregnant until after six weeks, the majority of people seeking an abortion in Texas have not been able to get the procedure. Texas law makes no exception for victims of rape or incest. The only exception to the ban was to save the pregnant person’s life in a medical crisis.
Aside from being one of the most restrictive abortion laws in the country, it’s also specifically designed to bypass legal proceedings.
Instead of being enforced by state agencies, Texas lawmakers designed the law to be enforced by individuals. SB 8 allows anyone – including people who do not live in Texas – to sue someone they believe had an abortion after six weeks for at least $ 10,000 in damages. It also makes anyone liable who “helps or supports” someone who gets the procedure after the border.
Almost complete discontinuation of abortions
For fear of potential litigation, many providers had stopped all abortion services or adhered to the strict limit. Amy Hagstrom Miller, CEO and founder of Whole Woman’s Health, recently told reporters that her employees lived with fear of being sued.
“These people don’t have lawyers or money to hire lawyers,” she said. “Many of our doctors withdrew from care during the term of SB 8 – that is simply too risky for them.”
Abortion providers in Texas say a lower court ruling that temporarily blocked the law provided a brief respite from SB 8’s restrictions. Expecting the federal appeals court would quickly overturn the lower court ruling, few clinics in the state have expanded their abortion services in the past six weeks.
Abortion providers hope to get more permanent relief from the US Supreme Court.
The nation’s highest court was asked to intervene when the law first went into effect, but the judges refused. Since the law came into effect, abortion providers have filed new lawsuits in court. So far the court has not reacted.
Abortion providers have said one of the longer term concerns is what will happen to their clinics if the law stays in place. Hagstrom Miller said providers are facing serious financial stress as they turn away the majority of people who seek abortion.
She said access to abortion in the state could be changed permanently if the law is not blocked while legal challenges go through the courts.
“If clinics close because SB 8 has been enforced long enough,” said Hagstrom Miller, “the damage will be done even if it is eventually knocked down.”