AUSTIN – A Texas judge has put down part of the state’s restrictive abortion law that allows people to sue anyone who helps a woman get an abortion after about six weeks of pregnancy.
In a ruling issued Thursday, Judge David Peeples said the enforcement regime is against the Texas Constitution and should not be enforced in state courts.
It’s not clear whether the already appealed ruling will cause clinics to resume abortions later in pregnancy. Since the law went into effect on September 1, the number of abortions in the state has halved, while the number of Texans leaving for services in other states has skyrocketed.
Heads of Planned Parenthood clinics in Texas who helped in the legal challenge said the ruling was “a much-needed move, but the right to abortion is still not secured.”
Texas law – the country’s toughest anti-abortion measure – is being challenged in several trials, one of which is pending in the US Supreme Court. On Thursday, the Supreme Court announced that it would pass one or more judgments by the end of the week, fueling speculation that a ruling on Texas law is imminent.
Peeples made it clear that his ruling was about the law’s unprecedented enforcement system, not the right to abortion. “Federal abortion issues have been left to the federal courts,” he noted, “and so this court will only consider the new and unique civil proceedings of SB8.”
The law, known as Senate Law 8, gives individuals the power to sue doctors or others who “assist or assist” an abortion after fetal heart activity is detected, usually about six weeks after pregnancy. Successful litigants win at least $ 10,000.
Peeples, a retired Republican judge tasked with hearing the case, stated that 21 million adults in Texas and millions more across the country could bring lawsuits. He said the program illegally delegated state power to the public and ordered a grand award with no evidence of harm. The novel tactic could be used on myriad other problems, Peeples warned, such as prohibiting people from openly carrying weapons.
“In our polarized country, other states with different constituencies and different priorities could choose to use these procedures to put other people out of business or to eliminate behavior they strongly disapprove of, including other areas of life that are constitutionally lawful,” he wrote.
“Pandora’s box is open a bit and time will tell,” he added.
Peeples did not issue a permanent injunction the plaintiffs wanted to prevent Texas Right to Life from ever suing them under the law. The anti-abortion organization has been behind a high-profile leader line to identify people in violation of the abortion ban, but has not yet initiated enforcement.
Texas Right to Life is already making an appeal, said its legislative director John Seago. He doesn’t expect anything to change as a result of Peeples’ ruling, as he said it was still legally risky to have abortions after the fetus was found to have heart activity.
“In the end, it makes practically no difference,” he said.
Abortion rights groups behind the legal challenge called Peeples’ decision a “beacon of hope” but said it was devastating to have the law in place for so long.
The ban has disproportionately affected black women, other people of color, immigrant communities and low-income Texans, said Marsha Jones, executive director of the Afiya Center, which is one of the plaintiffs.
“For months Texans have been forced to leave the state to get the abortion care they need,” Jones said in a statement, “and abortion for those unable to arrange for childcare, transportation, and other necessary expenses . ” Care was completely unattainable. “