Abortions after 6 weeks of pregnancy resume in Texas after judge blocks new law
Abortion after six weeks of pregnancy resumed in some parts of Texas Thursday, hours after a federal judge halted enforcement of the state’s near-total ban on the procedure.
For a little more than a month, providers had been forced to turn away patients seeking abortions once embryonic or fetal cardiac activity can be detected, facing the threat of litigation and significant fines for violations.
But late Wednesday, a federal judge in Austin temporarily blocked enforcement of the state’s new restrictive abortion law.
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In the hours that followed, staff at Whole Woman’s Health started to contact patients from a waitlist they have maintained since Senate Bill 8 went into effect on Sept. 1. On Thursday morning, the provider begin performing abortions that otherwise would have been prohibited by the law.
“There’s actually hope from patients and from staff, and I think there’s also a little desperation in that hope,” said Amy Hagstrom Miller, chief executive officer of Whole Woman’s Health. “Our staff and our community understands that this opportunity to care for people may be short-lived.”
One hour after U.S. District Judge Robert Pitman issued his preliminary injunction, state officials said they planned to appeal the decision to the conservative U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals. From there, it could land before the U.S. Supreme Court, which previously declined to intervene and stop the law from going into effect.
Under SB 8, passed with overwhelming Republican support earlier this year and signed into law by Gov. Greg Abbott, abortions are prohibited after six weeks of pregnancy, but the state is not allowed to enforce the prohibition as it would other state laws. Instead, SB 8 allows any private individual to sue abortion providers or any person who is seen as aiding and abetting procedures that violate the law. Successful litigants can collect $10,000.
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Major abortion providers in the state, including Whole Women's Health and Planned Parenthood, said they were complying with the law after its implementation, citing concerns about protecting doctors and staff from what they see as lawsuits filed by vigilantes.
And even now that the law has been halted and some abortions have resumed, the future of access remains murky.
As the law is written, providers could be liable for procedures performed while under a court order blocking the law.
Dig deeper: Does the Texas abortion law protect victims of sexual assault?
Hagstrom Miller declined to offer specifics on how many people were on the waitlist, which clinics were resuming the procedure or how many patients had received care since the law was struck down.
She said sharing those details could allow "our opposition to sort of narrow down to any physician or any location, because we anticipate quite a bit of opposition here."
Leaders from across Planned Parenthood's Texas properties issued a joint statement on Thursday saying Pitman's order is an "important first step toward restoring abortion access in Texas, but the fight is not over."
“People seeking an abortion should call our health centers so we can discuss their options," the statement reads. "We are regularly assessing what’s possible during this period of uncertainty but, given the state's appeal, our health centers may not have the days or even weeks it could take to navigate new patients through Texas’s onerous abortion restrictions."
While SB 8 was in effect, abortion providers in Texas reported a decline in patients seeking care and said they fielded calls daily from people confused about the parameters of the law. Staff helped connect people with providers outside of the state, but appointment slots at clinics in Oklahoma, New Mexico and Louisiana quickly filled up.
Hagstrom Miller said Thursday that there were no open appointments in Oklahoma until November, and Louisiana clinics were booked for the next six weeks.
This article originally appeared on Austin American-Statesman: Abortions resume in Texas after federal judge blocks new law
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