A contentious new legislation in Texas has been temporarily halted by a US judge, virtually prohibiting women from obtaining abortions in the state.
District Judge Robert Pitman approved the Biden administration’s plea to keep the statute from being enforced while its validity is contested.
Republican legislators in Texas proposed and passed the legislation.
The judgment was hailed by the White House as a significant step toward restoring women’s constitutional rights.
Judge Pitman of Austin said in a 113-page ruling that “women have been unjustly prohibited from taking control over their lives in ways that are guaranteed by the Constitution” since the legislation took effect on September 1.
“This court will not tolerate another day of this heinous violation of such a fundamental right,” he added.
Whole Woman’s Health, which operates a number of facilities in Texas, announced that abortions will be resumed “as soon as feasible.”
Texas Right to Life, an anti-abortion group, accused judges of “pandering to the abortion business” and demanded a “fair hearing” at the next round.
This is Texas’ first judicial defeat since the legislation went into effect, and the state promptly appealed Judge Pitman’s decision.
After the conservative-majority Supreme Court failed to stop Texas from implementing the legislation, President Joe Biden’s administration launched legal action. The Department of Justice has filed an emergency request to halt the law’s enforcement while it pursues legal action.
The bill has been called a “unprecedented assault” on women’s rights by Democratic Vice President Joe Biden, while Texas Governor Greg Abbott has defended it, stating, “The most important freedom is life itself.”
The “Heartbeat Act” prohibits abortions after the identification of what anti-abortion activists refer to as a foetal heartbeat, which medical experts claim is deceptive. This essentially prohibits abortions as early as six weeks into a pregnancy, when the majority of women are unaware that they are pregnant.
It is enforced by allowing anybody, whether from Texas or overseas, to sue doctors who perform abortions beyond six weeks. It does not, however, allow the women who undergo the surgery to be sued.
One doctor has already been sued for breaching the state’s new abortion regulations.
“I acted because I had a duty of care to this patient, as I do for other patients, and because she had a fundamental right to get this treatment,” Dr. Alan Braid wrote in the Washington Post.
Despite the order, some clinics are hesitant to begin treatments because they are concerned about being sued retrospectively while the ban was in effect.
According to legal experts, the bill includes a provision that states that clinics and physicians may still be held responsible for abortions performed while an emergency injunction is in effect.
However, it is uncertain if that clause would be enforced, and Judge Pitman stated in his judgment that it is “of doubtful validity.”
In a statement, Nancy Northup, head of the Center for Reproductive Rights, stated, “The fear of being sued retrospectively will not be fully gone until [the legislation] is knocked down for good.”