US judge temporarily blocks near-total ban on abortion in Texas

Biden's Justice Department sued Texas on September 9 and sought a temporary injunction against the law, arguing during an October 1 hearing that the measure violates the US constitution.
People protest for and against abortion rights outside of the U.S. Supreme Court building in Washington, D.C., U.S. October 4, 2021. (REUTERS)
People protest for and against abortion rights outside of the U.S. Supreme Court building in Washington, D.C., U.S. October 4, 2021. (REUTERS)
Published on Oct 07, 2021 07:05 AM IST
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A federal judge on Wednesday temporarily blocked a near-total ban on abortion in Texas, the toughest such law in the United States, in a challenge brought by President Joe Biden's administration after the US Supreme Court had allowed it to go into effect. The action by US District Judge Robert Pitman in Austin prevents the state from enforcing the Republican-backed law, which prohibits women from obtaining an abortion after six weeks of pregnancy, while litigation over its legality continues. The case is part of a fierce legal battle over abortion access in the United States, with numerous states pursuing restrictions.

“This court will not sanction one more day of this offensive deprivation of such an important right,” Pitman said in the ruling.

Biden's Justice Department sued Texas on September 9 and sought a temporary injunction against the law, arguing during an October 1 hearing that the measure violates the US constitution. The US Supreme Court on September 1 let the law take effect in a 5-4 vote powered by conservative justices.

At six weeks of pregnancy, many women do not yet know they are pregnant. The law makes no exceptions for pregnancies caused by rape or incest. It also lets ordinary citizens enforce the ban, rewarding them at least $10,000 if they successfully sue anyone who helped provide abortion after a fetal cardiac activity is detected. Critics of the law have said this provision enables people to act as anti-abortion bounty hunters.

The Justice Department argued that the law impedes women from exercising their constitutional right to terminate a pregnancy that was recognized in the Supreme Court's 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion nationwide. The department also argued that the law improperly interferes with the operations of the federal government to provide abortion-related services.

Texas Governor Greg Abbott, a Republican, has defended the legality of the state's abortion law, with this office saying in a statement: "The most precious freedom is life itself."

Pitman heard about three hours of arguments on the Justice Department's request. Justice Department attorney Brian Netter called the law an "unprecedented scheme of vigilante justice" that must be struck down.

Will Thompson, an attorney in the Texas Attorney General's Office, countered the department's arguments, saying there were plenty of opportunities for people in Texas to challenge the law on their own. He said the department's arguments were filled with "hyperbole and inflammatory rhetoric."

Pitman's action can be appealed to the New Orleans-based US 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, a conservative-leaning body that previously allowed the Texas abortion ban to proceed. Pitman was appointed by Democratic former President Barack Obama.

US conservatives have long sought to have Roe v. Wade overturned. The Supreme Court on Dec. 1 hears arguments in a separate case involving a Mississippi law that bans abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy. Mississippi has asked the high court to overturn the 1973 precedent.

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