Federal judge blocks Texas abortion law drawing praise from Biden admin., rebuke from pro-lifers

A pro-life activist with tape over her mouth demonstrates outside the U.S. Supreme Court before the court handed a victory to abortion providers, striking down a Texas law requiring abortion clinics to meet basic health and safety standards, Washington June 27, 2016. | Reuters/Kevin Lamarque

A federal judge on Wednesday granted a request from the Justice Department for a temporary restraining order against Texas’ controversial law that bans most abortions in the state after six weeks gestation, drawing swift praise from the Biden administration and rebuke from pro-life advocates.

In his 113-page ruling, U.S. District Court Judge Robert Pitman, an appointee of former President Barack Obama based in Austin, Texas, argued that the DOJ’s request for a preliminary injunction against the enforcement of SB 8 was granted because the state law “violates the Constitution and has a widespread effect.”

“The Court is satisfied that this is an exceptional case and likely will remain an exceptional case for several reasons. First, historically, the United States does not file many suits against states. In the last decade, the United States sued a state fourteen times under a theory of preemption or intergovernmental immunity… And, ‘those were actions brought by administrations of different political parties,’” Pitman argued.

“The United States seeks to enjoin the State in this case not only because the United States believes S.B. 8 violates the constitutional rights of Texas citizens and is causing widespread, significant injuries, but also because the United States alleges that the State ‘designed [S.B. 8] to preclude the ability of those whose rights are being violated from vindicating their rights,’” he noted.

Texas' SB 8 was signed into law in May and enacted on Sept. 1 after the U.S. Supreme Court refused to grant an emergency injunction to block the law from going into effect.

In addition to banning most abortions after six weeks of gestation, SB 8 also allows private citizens to take civil action against anyone who "performs and induces an abortion" or "knowingly engages in conduct that aids or abets the performance or inducement of an abortion, including paying for or reimbursing the costs of abortion through insurance or otherwise."

If successful in their lawsuits, private citizens are entitled to at least $10,000 in damages.

Last month, the Justice Department filed an emergency motion seeking a temporary restraining order or preliminary injunction against SB 8, arguing that the law violates Supreme Court precedent that legalized nationwide. 

Reacting to Pitman’s ruling Wednesday, Texas filed a notice appealing the decision to the New Orleans-based 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. That appeal could likely end up in the Supreme Court.

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki praised the ruling as a step toward “restoring the constitutional rights of women across the state of Texas.”

“Tonight’s ruling is an important step forward toward restoring the constitutional rights of women across the state of Texas. SB 8 not only blatantly violates the right to safe and legal abortion established under Roe v. Wade, but it creates a scheme to allow private citizens to interfere with that right and to evade judicial review,” she said in a statement Wednesday night.

“The fight has only just begun, both in Texas and in many states across this country where women’s rights are currently under attack. That’s why the president supports codifying Roe v. Wade, why he has directed a whole-of-government response to S.B. 8, and why he will continue to stand side-by-side with women across the country to protect their constitutional rights.”

Chelsey Youman, Texas state director of pro-life organization Human Coalition Action, called the ruling “a shameless example of unfettered judicial activism,” and warned abortion providers to “remain on notice.”

“Judge Pittman's stonewalling of the Texas Heartbeat Act is a shameless example of unfettered judicial activism at its worst. His historic injunction has no regard for the rule of law, and is more about partisan politics than a fair judgment of the law,” she said in a statement to The Christian Post.

“The Texas Heartbeat Act was enacted through the normal legislative process and supported by the people of Texas because we believe that a preborn baby’s heartbeat is clear evidence of human life. As the ruling will be undoubtedly appealed, abortion providers should remain on notice that S.B. 8 specifically allows them to be held liable for every preborn child whose heartbeat they end for up to six years,” she continued. “We remain confident in the appellate process and are hopeful that lives will be saved. The will of the people should not be overruled by an activist judge." 

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