AUSTIN, Texas (AP) – Clinics in Texas on Saturday canceled appointments they had made during a 48-hour reprieve of the most restrictive abortion law in the United States, which was back in effect as weary claimants turned to the Supreme Court again.
The Biden administration, which sued Texas for the law known as Senate Bill 8, has yet to say whether it would go that route after a federal appeals court restored the law on Friday. evening. The latest twist came just two days after a lower Austin court suspended the law, which bans abortions once heart activity is detected, usually around six weeks, before some women know they are. pregnant. There are no exceptions for rape or incest.
The White House made no immediate comment on Saturday.
For now at least, the law is in the hands of the 5th U.S. Court of Appeals, which allowed the restrictions to resume pending further arguments. Meanwhile, abortion providers and patients in Texas are back where they were for most of the past six weeks.
Out-of-state clinics already inundated with Texan patients seeking abortions were again the closest option for many women. Providers say others are being forced to carry pregnancies to term or are waiting in hopes courts will overturn the law that came into effect on September 1.
There are new questions too – not least whether anti-abortion advocates will try to punish Texas doctors who performed abortions during the brief window in which the law was suspended from Wednesday to Friday. Texas leaves the application only in the hands of private citizens who can collect $ 10,000 or more in damages if they successfully sue abortion providers who flout the restrictions.
Texas Right to Life, the state’s largest anti-abortion group, has created a whistleblower line to receive reports of violators. A dozen calls were received after U.S. District Judge Robert Pitman suspended the law, said John Seago, the group’s legislative director.
Although some clinics in Texas have said they briefly resumed abortions on patients who were over six weeks old, Seago said his group had no pending lawsuits. He said the clinics’ public statements did “not match what we saw on the ground,” which he said included a network of observers and pregnancy centers in crisis.
“I have no credible evidence at the time of the litigation we would present,” Seago said on Saturday.
Texas had about two dozen abortion clinics before the law came into effect. At least six clinics have resumed performing abortions after six weeks of pregnancy during the stay, according to the Center for Reproductive Rights.
At Whole Woman’s Health, which has four abortion clinics in Texas, CEO Amy Hagstrom Miller said she has not performed the number of abortions performed at her facilities for patients beyond six. weeks, but that she put it on “not bad”. were once again complying with the law and recognizing the risks its doctors and staff had taken.
âOf course we are all worried,â she said. “But we also feel a deep commitment to providing abortion care when it is legal to do so, we have done it.”
Pitman, the federal judge who put an end to Texas law on Wednesday in a dazzling 113-page opinion, has been appointed by President Barack Obama. He called the law an “offensive deprivation” of the constitutional right to abortion, but his decision was quickly overturned – at least for now – in a one-page order by the 5th Circuit on Friday night.
That same appeals court previously allowed the Texas restrictions to go into effect in September, in a separate lawsuit filed by abortion providers. This time, the court gave the Justice Department until 5 p.m. Tuesday to respond.
It is not clear what happens after that, including when the appeals court will act or whether it will ask for more arguments. Texas is asking the appeals court for a permanent injunction that would allow the law to remain in effect while the case unfolds.
Meanwhile, Nancy Northup, president of the Center for Reproductive Rights, has urged the Supreme Court to “step in and stop this madness.” Last month, the High Court allowed the law to move forward in a 5-4 decision, although it did so without ruling on the constitutionality of the law.
A 1992 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 beaten the courts because of its new enforcement mechanism that leaves enforcement to individuals, not prosecutors, which critics say amounts to a bounty.
The Biden administration could send the case back to the Supreme Court and ask it to quickly reinstate Pitman’s order, although it is not clear whether they will.
“I’m not very optimistic about what might happen to the Supreme Court,” Carl Tobias, professor of law at the University of Richmond, said of the Department of Justice’s chances.
âBut there aren’t a lot of downsides either, are there?â He said. “The question is, what’s changed since the last time they saw him? There’s this full opinion, this full hearing before the judge and the case file. So that may be enough.”
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