A US appeals court has quickly allowed Texas to resume banning most abortions just a day after clinics began treating patients for the first time since September.
A one-page order by the 5th US Circuit Court of Appeals reinstated the nation’s strictest abortion law, which bans abortions once cardiac activity is detected, usually around six weeks. It makes no exceptions in cases of rape or incest.
“Patients are being thrown back into a state of chaos and fear,” said Nancy Northup, president of the Centre for Reproductive Rights, which represents several Texas clinics that had briefly resumed normal abortion services.
She called on the US Supreme Court to “step in and stop this madness”.
Clinics had prepared for the New Orleans-based appeals court to act fast after US District Judge Robert Pitman, an appointee of President Barack Obama, suspended the Texas law he called an “offensive deprivation” of the constitutional right to an abortion on Wednesday.
Knowing that order might not stand long, a handful of Texas clinics immediately started performing abortions again beyond six weeks and booked new appointments for this weekend.
But barely 48 hours passed before the appeals court accepted Texas’ request to set aside Pitman’s ruling, at least for now, pending further arguments. It gave the Biden administration, which had brought the lawsuit, until Tuesday to respond.
“Great news tonight,” Republican Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton tweeted. “I will fight federal overreach at every turn.”
Texas had about 24 abortion clinics before the law took effect on September 1. During the brief period the law was on hold, many Texas physicians remained unwilling to perform abortions, fearful that doing so could still leave them in legal jeopardy.
The new law threatens Texas abortion providers with lawsuits from private citizens, who are entitled to collect at least $10,000 in damages if successful. That novel approach to enforcement is the reason why Texas had been able to evade an earlier wave of legal challenges prior to this week.
“This is an answered prayer,” said Kimberlyn Schwartz, spokeswoman for Texas Right to Life, the state’s largest anti-abortion group.