Texas abortions resume in some clinics after judge halts near-total ban

Women across the US have protested the law in Texas. Credit: AP

Abortions have resumed in some Texas clinics after a federal judge stopped the most restrictive abortion law in the country.

A US judge temporarily suspended the controversial legislation that all but bans women from having an abortion in the state.

The law, drafted and approved by Republican politicians, prohibits abortions from around six weeks. Many women do not know they are pregnant at six weeks.

News of its suspension promptly made way for a flurry of activity at clinics, appointments scheduled for the days ahead and phone lines once again busy.

Amy Hagstrom Miller, president of Whole Woman’s Health, said her four Texas clinics called in some patients early on Thursday, who were on a list in case the law was blocked at some point.

Activists demonstrate outside the Supreme Court Credit: J Scott Applewhite/AP

In the first legal challenge to Senate Bill 8, District Judge Robert Pitman granted a request by the Biden administration to prevent any enforcement of the law while its legality is being contested.

But the relief felt by Texas abortion providers was tempered by the possibility of an appeals court reinstating the law in the coming days.

Some Texas physicians, meanwhile, were still declining to perform abortions, fearful they might be held liable despite the judge’s order.

President Joe Biden. Credit: AP

The legislation has been branded "un-American" by US President Joe Biden, while abortion providers tried and failed to get the law overturned at the Supreme Court.

In a 113-page opinion, Judge Pitman, of Austin, said from the moment the law came into effect on September 1 "women have been unlawfully prevented from exercising control over their lives in ways that are protected by the Constitution". "This court will not sanction one more day of this offensive deprivation of such an important right," he said on Wednesday.

The White House, which has said the restrictions were enacted in defiance of the US constitution, welcomed the latest ruling as an important step in what many consider will be a lengthy process.

But even with the law on hold, abortion services in Texas may not instantly resume because doctors still fear that they could be sued without a more permanent legal decision.

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To enforce the legislation, Texas deputised private citizens to file lawsuits against anyone who breaks the law, and has entitled them to at least £7,360 in damages if successful.

For example, a taxi driver could be sued for driving a woman to get an abortion, as they could be deemed to be enabling it.

Abortion providers say their fears have become reality in the short time the law has been in effect.

Planned Parenthood says the number of patients from Texas at its clinics in the state decreased by nearly 80% in the two weeks afterwards.

Some providers have said Texas clinics are now in danger of closing while neighbouring states struggle to keep up with a surge of patients who sometimes must drive hundreds of miles.

Anti-abortion counter-protesters Credit: Shari L Gross /Star Tribune via AP

Other states, mostly in the south, have passed similar laws that ban abortion within the early weeks of pregnancy, all of which judges have blocked.

But Texas’s version has so far outmanoeuvred the courts because it leaves enforcement to private citizens to file suits, not prosecutors.

Texas officials are likely to seek a swift reversal from the 5th US Circuit Court of Appeals, which previously allowed the restrictions to take effect.