A federal judge on Wednesday granted the Justice Department’s request to halt enforcement of the recently passed Texas law that bans nearly all abortions in the state while the legal battle over the statute makes its way through the federal courts.
In his 113-page ruling, Robert L. Pitman, a Federal District Court judge in Austin, sided with the Biden administration, which had sued to halt a law that has changed the landscape of the abortion fight and further fueled the national debate over whether abortion will remain legal across the country.
Judge Pitman used sharp language to criticize the law, known as Senate Bill 8, which was drafted to make it difficult to challenge in court by delegating enforcement to private individuals, who can sue anyone who performs abortions or “aids and abets” them.
“From the moment S.B. 8 went into effect, women have been unlawfully prevented from exercising control over their own lives in ways that are protected by the Constitution,” he wrote in his opinion.
“This court will not sanction one more day of this offensive deprivation of such an important right,” he added.
It is not yet clear what effect his decision to pause enforcement of the law will have on women in Texas, who have scrambled to find abortion providers in other parts of the country.
The law’s novel legal approach extends to what happens if it is temporarily suspended: Clinics can be sued retroactively for any abortions they provide while it is blocked. That means penalties could be imposed when the suspension is lifted for abortions that happened while it was in place, keeping clinics in a fraught legal environment.
“S.B. 8 says if an injunction is dismissed, you are still accountable for abortions you did while you were protected by that injunction,” said John Seago, the legislative director for the anti-abortion group Texas Right to Life.
So even though Judge Pitman ruled in favor of the clinics, they expressed hesitation on Wednesday night about when they might resume full activity.