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Abortion services to resume at some Texas clinics after judge blocks pre-Roe ban

Austin American-Statesman logo Austin American-Statesman 6/28/2022 Madlin Mekelburg, Austin American-Statesman
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Some Texas abortion clinics can — for the time being — resume normal operations without the threat of criminal prosecution after a judge in Harris County granted their request for a temporary restraining order on Tuesday.

The clinics had stopped performing abortions on Friday, due to legal uncertainty after the U.S. Supreme Court ended federal constitutional protections for the procedure.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said at the time that prosecutors could enforce a 1925 law banning most abortions and creating criminal charges for providers and people who offer assistance to patients seeking abortions. A Texas law adopted last year banning nearly all abortions is set to take effect in the coming weeks.

Providers filed a lawsuit Monday, looking to block enforcement of the pre-Roe v. Wade law.

State District Judge Christine Weems sided with providers after a brief hearing Tuesday, writing in her temporary restraining order that the 1925 law is invalid and allowing it to be enforced would cause "probable, irreparable, and imminent injury" for providers. A hearing has been scheduled for July 12 to consider a more permanent order.

Paxton said he plans to immediately appeal the decision, writing in a tweet, "I'll ensure we have all the legal tools to keep TX pro-life!" 

More: Abortion providers sue Texas to block enforcement of 1920s-era ban

Marc Hearron, senior counsel at the Center for Reproductive Rights, called Tuesday's order a "relief."

"This decision will allow abortion services to resume at many clinics across the state, connecting Texans to the essential health care they need," he said in a statement. "Every hour that abortion is accessible in Texas is a victory.”

The Center for Reproductive Rights and the American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit Monday on behalf of several abortion providers and their affiliates seeking to block enforcement of the law. They are Whole Woman's Health, Alamo City Surgery Center, Brookside Women's Medical Center, Houston Women's Clinic, Houston Women's Reproductive Services and the Southwestern Women's Surgery Center.

Whole Woman's Health providers begin contacting patients on clinic waitlists Tuesday afternoon to schedule abortions, according to the organization.

Kelly Krause, a spokeswoman for the Center for Reproductive Rights, initially said the order applied just to clinics involved in the lawsuit, but in a call with reporters, Hearron said the impact of the ruling on other organizations is not immediately clear.

“I don’t know that I have an answer to that question,” Hearron said when asked about other providers who ceased operations. “That’s a legal question that the other clients would want to look at.”

More: 'Why are we moving backward?': Austin crowds protest Roe v. Wade ruling, Texas abortion law

Emily Cook, an attorney for the anti-abortion organization Texas Right to Life, said in a statement that Tuesday's order is limited to specific providers and government officials named in the lawsuit.

“Although some government officials are temporarily blocked from enforcing the pre-Roe statutes against certain abortion facilities, the law is still valid and abortion is no longer a ‘lawful medical procedure,'" she said in a statement.

Lawyers for the abortion providers argued in their lawsuit the “antiquated” abortion ban would have been repealed when the Supreme Court established a constitutional right to abortion in 1973 and therefore cannot be newly enforced now that the landmark ruling has been overturned.

More: Abortions cease in Texas after Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade

Weems' order provides temporary relief to providers, who can only continue to perform abortions until the state's so-called trigger law goes into effect in the coming weeks. That law would make it a felony to perform an abortion at any point in pregnancy.

In an advisory after the Supreme Court's Friday abortion ruling, Paxton wrote that the trigger law will not go into effect until 30 days after the Supreme Court issues an official judgment, a legal document that could take the court weeks to provide.

Hearron acknowledged that the trigger law would eventually go into effect, but said abortion should remain legal until that point.

“At some point in the future, in a couple of months, abortion will be banned. There will be a near-total ban across the state of Texas,” he said. “But not yet; it’s not today.”

This article originally appeared on Austin American-Statesman: Abortion services to resume at some Texas clinics after judge blocks pre-Roe ban

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