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Strict Texas abortion law is on ‘pause.’ Here’s what that means

Private citizens can’t sue abortion providers for now, but abortions may not return unless the Biden Justice Department wins its lawsuit to stop the law.

Strict Texas abortion law is on ‘pause.’ Here’s what that means
[Source Images: Supreme Court of the United States; undefined undefined/iStock]

A federal judge has temporarily halted Texas’s controversial month-old abortion ban until a lawsuit that the Biden administration filed can be resolved in court. The Justice Department is suing to kill the law, which it calls patently unconstitutional. One of the most restrictive in the developed world, it amounts to a near-complete ban on abortions after six weeks of pregnancy. It also empowers private citizens as its enforcers, allowing them to collect $10,000 if they haul a person, who helped provide an abortion, into civil court.

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What does the ruling say?

U.S. District Judge Robert Pitman’s ruling says, “This Court will not sanction one more day of this offensive deprivation of such an important right.” Texas has cooked up an “unprecedented scheme,” he argues, that relies on deputizing the public as the law’s enforcers to make it harder to bring federal legal challenges against the ban. What Pitman’s order does is issue a preliminary injunction, meaning private citizens can’t bring any more lawsuits as long as the Biden Justice Department’s litigation continues.

What effect will it have?

The immediate effects are uncertain—particularly whether it means doctors in the state can perform abortions again. Providers have praised Pitman’s ruling but admit they’re not sure if this means they can begin rescheduling procedures yet. (That’s because Texas lawmakers accounted for this scenario, too: They can be retroactively sued for abortions they provide while the ban is paused, if it’s reinstated.) About an hour after Pitman’s order was issued, Texas also filed a notice with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit, petitioning it to intervene.

What’s the bottom line?

The short answer, then, is that Texans may see few changes until the DOJ gets a final ruling in its case. Planned Parenthood released a statement this morning noting that while “Texas’s extreme abortion ban” has been blocked “for now,” Texas has already begun appealing Pitman’s ruling, so “our patients and providers need the courts to allow care to resume.” Whole Woman’s Health, another abortion provider, said last night that it’s actively working to bring back the “full scope of abortion care as soon as possible,” but that “there’s a long road ahead.” In the end, there’s a good chance that path will wind all the way to the Supreme Court.

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