A federal judge has 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 on Wednesday 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 access to abortion in the US, with numerous states trying to enforce restrictions on the procedure.
“This Court will not sanction one more day of this offensive deprivation of such an important right,” Pitman said in the ruling.
Whole Woman’s Health, a group that advocates for women’s right to choose on abortion, welcomed the decision saying: “No more Texans should have to suffer under this cruel ban.”
But the group noted that the block is only temporary, adding “we still have a long road ahead”.
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.
‘Anti-abortion bounty hunters’
The US Supreme Court on September 1 allowed the law to take effect in a 5-4 vote led by conservative justices.
At six weeks of pregnancy, many women do not even know they are pregnant. The law makes no exceptions for pregnancies caused by rape or incest.
It also enables citizens to enforce the ban, rewarding them with at least $10,000 if they successfully sue anyone who helps provide an abortion after foetal 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 recognised in the Supreme Court’s Roe v Wade decision. The 1973 landmark ruling legalised abortion across the US.