• Sat. Sep 23rd, 2023


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State Battles Are Defining the Shifting Abortion Landscape

A Texas judge on Tuesday temporarily blocked an immediate prohibition on abortions in that state, allowing procedures to resume, though the state’s recent ban at about six weeks of pregnancy still applies.

The Texas ruling was the latest in a series of state-by-state legal actions aimed at protecting reproductive rights after the Supreme Court on Friday ended a constitutional protection for abortion. Judges in Louisiana and Utah issued similar orders Monday that temporarily allowed abortions in those states.

In Tennessee, however, a ban on abortions at about six weeks took effect Tuesday after the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit lifted its previous stay in light of the Supreme Court decision.

Since the Supreme Court ruling, abortion rights groups have sued for relief in a number of other states, including Arizona, Kentucky, Mississippi and Idaho.

The decision in Harris County, Texas, prevented the automatic resurrection of a 1925 law that outlaws abortion, punishing those who perform the procedure with imprisonment for two to five years. The law had gone unenforced after 1974, when the Supreme Court ruled in Roe v. Wade that women had a constitutional right to the procedure, but it had never been taken off the books, and Ken Paxton, the Texas attorney general, had contended that abortion providers could now be prosecuted under it.

Tuesday’s ruling means that abortions can resume in Texas in the near term, to the extent that the law allows them. Even before last week’s Supreme Court decision, the state permitted abortions only up to about six weeks of pregnancy under a 2021 law that abortion rights advocates considered a near-total ban, since many women are unaware they are pregnant by that stage.

Texas also has a so-called “trigger ban,” written before the ruling, to automatically outlaw abortion statewide should the court overrule Roe. That ban, which makes exceptions only to save the life of the mother or prevent “substantial impairment of major bodily function,” is set to take effect in a few weeks.

“With the blessing of five Supreme Court Justices, politicians will soon be able to force Texans to suffer the serious risks, pains, and costs of pregnancy and childbirth against their will,” Julia Kaye, an attorney with the A.C.L.U. Reproductive Freedom Project, said in a statement after the ruling. “But that day is not today, despite Attorney General Paxton’s campaign to stop all abortions immediately by threatening unlawful prosecutions under antiquated laws.”

The American Civil Liberties Union and health care providers — not including Planned Parenthood — had sought the delay, arguing that the old law had not been enforced in nearly a half-century. The judge set a hearing for July 12 to consider a more permanent injunction.

After the “trigger ban” takes effect, abortion in Texas will be outlawed from the point of fertilization. Women who get abortions will not be prosecuted, but doctors who perform the procedure will face potential sentences of up to life in prison or fines of up to $100,000.

“We are contacting the patients on our waiting lists and we will resume services in our 4 Texas clinics and help as many people as soon as possible,” said Amy Hagstrom Miller, chief executive of the abortion provider Whole Woman’s Health, in a statement. She added that the clinics must still comply with Texas abortion laws currently in place, so this win is “heavily restricted.”