A federal judge granted the Justice Department a temporary injunction late Wednesday, blocking the enforcement of Texas’ strict abortion law.
U.S. District Judge Robert Pitman issued the order, which will block the state from enforcing law, known as S.B. 8, which was passed by the GOP-controlled Legislature. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in September that the law could be enforced while legal challenges are pending.
“From the moment S.B. 8 went into effect, women have been unlawfully prevented from exercising control over their lives in ways that are protected by the Constitution,” Pitman said in his ruling. “That other courts may find a way to avoid this conclusion is theirs to decide; this Court will not sanction one more day of this offensive deprivation of such an important right.”
Pitman also said the Texas Legislature “contrived an unprecedented and transparent statutory scheme” to enact a near-total ban on abortions in the state.
The law prohibits women from obtaining an abortion if fetal cardiac activity can be detected. In most cases that is around six weeks, when many women are not yet aware that they are pregnant. Unlike other states’ anti-abortion laws, Texas’ ban also allows private citizens to enforce the law by filing lawsuits against violators — entitling them to at least $10,000 in damages per defendant if successful.
Lawyers for the Justice Department appeared in federal court in Texas on Friday to ask a judge to block the state’s restrictive abortion law, arguing that the statue is “in open defiance of the Constitution.”
Lawyers for the Texas Attorney General’s Office have maintained that the law is constitutional and had asked Pitman to deny the request for a preliminary injunction.
Texas swiftly appealed Pitman’s order to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which could issue a stay on the ruling and allow the law to remain in effect while litigation proceeds.
Prompted by the Texas law, thousands of people rallied nationwide last weekend in support of abortion rights. Pressure has been mounting on lawmakers for action on the issue as more GOP-led states consider bills to restrict abortion and are being challenged in the courts.
The Susan B. Anthony List, an anti-abortion group, criticized the decision in a statement, arguing that “an unelected judge has interfered with the clearly expressed will of Texans.”
“The people of Texas speaking through their state legislators acted to protect unborn children with beating hearts, who are as human as you and me,” said the group’s president Marjorie Dannenfelser. “It is time to restore this right to the people and update our laws.”
Alexis McGill Johnson, the head of Planned Parenthood, praised the ruling in a statement.
“For more than a month now, Texans have been deprived of abortion access because of an unconstitutional law that never should have gone into effect,” Johnson said. “While this fight is far from over, we are hopeful that the court’s order blocking S.B. 8 will allow Texas abortion providers to resume services as soon as possible.”
The Supreme Court, with a 6-3 conservative majority, in December will also consider a challenge to a Mississippi abortion law that is expected to be another challenge to the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling, which legalized abortions.
Chloe Atkins and Daniel Barnes contributed.