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Abortion rights advocates march in Texas

Protesters hold up signs as they march outside the Texas state capitol on May 29, 2021 in Austin. (Photo: Sergio Flores/Getty Images)

'This Is Not the End': Dire Threat to Abortion Rights Remains as Judge Blocks Texas Ban

"The Senate must join the House in immediately passing the Women's Health Protection Act so we can end cruel bans and guarantee the right to abortion care for every pregnant person throughout Texas and across America."

Jake Johnson

A federal judge late Wednesday temporarily blocked enforcement of Texas' near-total abortion ban, issuing a scathing order that condemns the recently enacted law as an "unprecedented and aggressive scheme" to strip state residents of their reproductive rights.

"We already know the politicians behind this law will stop at nothing until they've banned abortion entirely."

In his 113-page ruling, U.S. District Judge Robert Pitman of Austin grants the Justice Department's request for an injunction and argues that Texas "forfeited the right" to delay the injunction during the appeal process, which the state sought to begin almost immediately after Pitman's order came down.

"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," Pitman writes. "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."

Reproductive rights advocates welcomed Pitman's ruling but stressed that the fight is far from over, given that S.B. 8 allows for retroactive lawsuits against abortion providers and anyone who "aids or abets" the procedure after roughly six weeks of gestation, before many people know they're pregnant.

"This injunction is a critical first step in restoring abortion rights and services in Texas," said Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights. "For 36 days, patients have been living in a state of panic, not knowing where or when they'd be able to get abortion care. The clinics and doctors we represent hope to resume full abortion services as soon as they are able, even though the threat of being sued retroactively will not be completely gone until S.B. 8 is struck down for good. The cruelty of this law is endless."

"While we are relieved that a court has finally blocked this unconstitutional law, today's court order is only temporary," Northup added. "This is not the end. We know the state of Texas will keep defending this malicious ban."

Brigitte Amiri, deputy director of the ACLU's Reproductive Freedom Project, said in a statement that "though the court's ruling offers a sigh of relief, the threat of Texas' abortion ban still looms over the state as cases continue to move through the courts."

"We already know the politicians behind this law will stop at nothing until they've banned abortion entirely," said Amiri, who noted that the Texas law has already had a "devastating" impact on vulnerable people across the state.

"People who need abortion care and have resources have been forced to flee the state and those without resources or the ability to travel have been forced to remain pregnant against their will," Amiri continued. "The law has impacted the most marginalized the harshest, including people of color and young people. This fight is far from over, and we're ready to do everything we can to make sure every person can get the abortion care they need regardless of where they live or how much they make."

Signed by Republican Gov. Greg Abbott in May, the Texas law empowers private citizens rather than state officials to enforce the abortion ban, a deliberate attempt to evade legal challenges. Under the law, which other GOP-led states are moving to replicate, plaintiffs who succeed in court are entitled to a $10,000 reward as well as the recovery of their legal fees.

Last month, the conservative-dominated U.S. Supreme Court opted to leave the draconian law in place, imperiling abortion rights in Texas and across the country. On December 1, the Supreme Court is set to begin hearing oral arguments in a separate case that poses a direct threat to Roe v. Wade.

The Supreme Court's decision to let the Texas ban take effect spurred action from the House of Representatives, which on September 24 passed legislation that would codify abortion rights into federal law. But as long as the 60-vote legislative filibuster remains in place, the bill is likely to die in the Senate due to Republican opposition.

In response to Pitman's ruling, Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.)—chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus—said that "this decision gives us time that we absolutely can't waste.

"The Senate must join the House in immediately passing the Women's Health Protection Act so we can end cruel bans and guarantee the right to abortion care for every pregnant person throughout Texas and across America," Jayapal added.

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