Texas pauses abortion law. What’s next for residents, clinics?

Austin, Texas

A Federal Judge ordered Texas Wednesday to stop a ban on most abortions. The law had caused a problem for clinics and patients since its inception .

U.S. The law was temporarily suspended by Robert Pitman (a District Judge appointed by President Barack Obama).

However, doctors remain concerned about the possibility of being sued if abortions in Texas are not immediately resumed.

Texas abortions are now prohibited after medical professionals detect heart activity. This happens usually within six weeks, and even before women realize they’re expecting. Private citizens can file civil lawsuits against providers of abortion, and others helping a woman get an abortion in Texas. However, enforcement is up to the private citizen deputies.

The supporters of Senate Bill 8 are preparing to challenge the Justice Department, but they believe that the most restrictive abortion law in America will be ultimately upheld. On Wednesday, Texas officials quickly informed the court of their intent to appeal against the decision.

Here are some questions about the future and how it has affected the situation so far.

What have been the results?

Abortion providers say the ramifications have been punishing and “exactly what we feared.”

More than 100 pages of court filings in September offered the most comprehensive glimpse at how the near-total ban on abortion in Texas has played out. Executives at Texas’ almost two dozen abortion clinics said they turned away hundreds of patients and refused to see some because of cardiac activity.

One Planned Parenthood location in Houston normally performed about two dozen abortions daily, but in the 10 days after the law took effect, the clinic had done a total of 52. In the meantime, clinics from nearby states claim they struggle to keep up with increasing demand. They also say that care is being delayed for women who travel long distances to Texas.

At Oklahoma City’s Planned Parenthood Clinic, more than 60% of all 219 appointments in the next two weeks was for Texas women. According to doctors, recent Texas patients have been rape victims. The SB8 does not allow for exceptions in the case of incest or rape.

Most Texas abortion providers claim they comply with SB8. One San Antonio doctor who became the first to publicly reveal he performed an abortion in defiance of the new law, was sued Sept. 20, but not by abortion opponents. In an attempt to get the law invalidated, former attorneys from Arkansas and Illinois sued him. What was Texas’s landscape before?

More than 55,000 abortions were performed last year in Texas, which already had some of the nation’s strictest abortion laws, including a ban after 20 weeks of pregnancy.

How soon can they reopen after the judge decided in favor of clinics?

It could happen quickly according to abortion providers, although it will depend on many factors. Texas abortion providers have had to experience sudden ramping up of operations. In the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic last year, abortions in Texas were all but banned for weeks under orders by Republican Gov. Greg Abbott that postponed surgeries “not immediately medically necessary.”

But providers were reporting staffing issues and worried some clinics would permanently shutter. Texas was home to more 40 clinics than it had ten years ago. However, more than half were closed during the long legal battle for a 2013 law, which was eventually overturned by Supreme Court.

Amy Hagstrom Miller, president of Whole Woman’s Health, said some of the 17 physicians at her four clinics were ready to resume normal abortion services if the law was put on hold. Preparations began last week when some doctors gave patients found to have cardiac activity information to comply with another restriction – requiring a 24-hour waiting period before an abortion — so that they would be ready to be called back.

However, the majority of her doctors, according to Ms. Hagstrom, are still wary and worry about lawsuits if there is not a court decision. Staff at the clinic are equally concerned. She said, “Ofcourse, we understand that.”

What’s next? The Biden administration started its lawsuit in September. They then requested a temporary restraining or order to temporarily suspend SB8 while they proceed with the lawsuit.

Texas Right to Life is the largest state anti-abortion organization and was a driving force behind the new law. It has celebrated the fact it has prevented abortions each day it has been in place .

Mr. Pitman’s temporary stay of execution doesn’t mean that the law is invalid. However, the fact that the Administration’s suit – calling it “clearly inconstitutional”, was likely to prevail will be a contributing factor to the suspension.

Texas could file quickly paperwork asking the U.S. 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals could reinstate the law. The New Orleans-based appellate court that oversees Texas is conservative and has a history of staying Austin’s lower courts.

The law has been to the Supreme Court once before. Although 5-4 justices did not vote to interfere to stop the law from going into effect, they stated that further challenges could be brought to their attention. The law may be returned to the justices soon after the Biden administration has challenged it.

How are the other states reacting?

After Texas’ law went into effect, Republican lawmakers in at least half a dozen states said they would consider introducing bills using the Texas law as a model, hoping it provides a pathway to enacting the kind of abortion crackdown they have sought for years. These states are Arkansas, Florida and South Dakota.

While this was happening, a dozen Democratic state attorneys general submitted briefs in the Biden Administration’s lawsuit stating that a significant reduction in abortion access in one State would cause health care systems to be burdened in other States. They requested Mr. Pitman block the enforcement of this law.

The City Council in Portland, Oregon, briefly considered a boycott of Texas businesses because of the new law but instead decided to set aside $200,000 to fund reproductive care.

This story was reported by The Associated Press. Jessica Gresko was reporting from Washington.