US judge blocks enforcement of near-total Texas abortion ban

Law prohibits women from obtaining an abortion after six weeks of pregnancy

A US federal judge has temporarily blocked a near-total ban on abortion in Texas, the toughest such law in the US, following a challenge from President Joe Biden's administration after the Supreme Court let it proceed.

District Judge Robert Pitman's action 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 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," Judge Pitman said in the ruling.

The ink was barely dry on Pitman's order before Texas notified the court it intends to appeal the ruling to the conservative-leaning Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, setting the stage for the next phase of the legal battle.

"Tonight's ruling is an important step forward towards restoring the constitutional rights of women across the state of Texas," White House press secretary Jen Psaki said in statement late on Wednesday. "The fight has only just begun, both in Texas and in many states across this country where women’s rights are currently under attack."

Mr Biden's Justice Department sued Texas on 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 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 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that legalised abortion nationwide.

The department also argued that the law improperly interferes with the operations of the federal government to provide abortion-related services.

US conservatives have long sought to have Roe v. Wade overturned. The Supreme Court on December 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.

Updated: October 7th 2021, 3:33 PM
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