Texas’s anti-abortion law has been blocked — for now

Weeks after Texas passed one of the most restrictive anti-choice laws in the country, a federal judge is finally pumping the brakes.

A woman holds a sign in reference to Texas Governor Greg Abbott as protesters take part in the Women...
"In Open Defiance of the Constitution"

A federal judge has temporarily put a stop to Texas’s draconian effort to criminalize reproductive health care, blocking the state’s anti-abortion bill in a blistering decision that leaves little doubt as to what he thinks about the Republican-led push to legislate what a person does with their own reproductive capacity.

In his 113-page ruling, Judge Robert Pitman of the Western District of Texas granted the Department of Justice a preliminary injunction to stop S.B.8, the anti-abortion law passed in July, which was allowed to go into effect in early September after the Supreme Court declined to take up challenges to the case. As Pitman made clear in his decision, however, Texas’s recently instituted law is nothing more than an end-run around the 14th Amendment and the constitutionally established right to an abortion.

“A person’s right under the Constitution to choose to obtain an abortion prior to fetal viability is well established,” Pitman said. “Fully aware that depriving its citizens of this right by direct state action would be flagrantly unconstitutional, the state contrived an unprecedented and transparent statutory scheme to do just that.”

Pitman’s injunction comes just under a month after the Justice Department sued to block Texas’s law — which not only criminalizes abortions performed after six weeks from the date of fertilization, but also essentially deputizes private citizens to snitch on anyone suspected of aiding in terminating a pregnancy — describing the law as being “in open defiance of the Constitution.”

In his ruling, Pitman also recognized a fundamental truth of Texas’s abortion ban: that it is not simply a law to block abortions in Texas itself, but if allowed to stand, additionally offers other Republican-led states a blueprint for how to criminalize abortions as well.

“Had this court not acted on its sound authority to provide relief to the United States, any number of states could enact legislation that deprives citizens of their constitutional rights, with no legal remedy to challenge that deprivation, without the concern that a federal court would enter an injunction,” Pitman wrote.

In a statement released following the granted injunction, Attorney General Merrick Garland hailed Pitman’s decision, calling it “a victory for women in Texas and for the rule of law.”

“It is the foremost responsibility of the Department of Justice to defend the Constitution,” Garland continued. “We will continue to protect constitutional rights against all who would seek to undermine them.”

On Thursday morning, Texas’s own attorney general, Ken Paxton, vowed to appeal the ruling to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals — a sign that the fight over reproductive health care in Texas, and the country as a whole, is far from over.