A federal judge on Wednesday 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 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 US, with numerous states pursuing restrictions.
“This Court will not sanction one more day of this offensive deprivation of such an important right,” Mr Pitman said in the ruling.
The Justice Department sued Texas on Sep 9 and sought a temporary injunction against the law, arguing during an Oct 1 hearing that the measure violates the US Constitution. The Supreme Court on Sep 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 fetal 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 recognized in the Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v Wade decision that legalized abortion nationwide. The department also argued that the law improperly interferes with the operations of the federal government to provide abortion-related services.
Texas Governor Greg Abbott, a Republican, has defended the legality of the state’s abortion law, with this office saying in a statement: “The most precious freedom is life itself.”
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the ruling.