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Some clinics in Texas have resumed abortions after six weeks, but remain wary of being sued

An exam room at Whole Woman's Health of Austin
Michael Minasi
/
KUT
Whole Woman's Health of Austin has resumed offering abortions to women who would have been prevented from getting them under Texas' new law.

At least a few clinics have resumed offering abortions up to 18 weeks into a pregnancy a day after a federal judge temporarily blocked Texas’ new abortion law.

“We reached out to some of the patients that we had on a waiting list to come in to have abortions today," Amy Hagstrom Miller, CEO and founder of Whole Woman’s Health, told reporters Thursday. "Folks whose pregnancies did have cardiac activity."

Those women would have been prevented from getting abortions if Senate Bill 8 were not blocked.

Miller said other providers in the state were also providing abortions at six weeks, though some were hesitant, fearing a reversal from the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals.

The state on Wednesday appealed the judge's ruling to the federal appeals court, which is among the most conservative in the country. If it throws out the injunction, abortion providers would be left wide open to lawsuits from private citizens, who are allowed to enforce the ban.

“We can be sued retroactively,” Miller said. “That part is part of why you don’t see every clinic in the state reopening immediately today.”

Molly Duane, a senior staff attorney with the Center for Reproductive Rights, said there is a provision in SB 8 that says anyone who provides an abortion after six weeks cannot defend themselves by saying it was done while a temporary injunction was in place.

“That provision remains a serious concern for physicians and clinics,” she said. "[But] there are independent providers across the state that are working to reopen full services and are doing so wary of the fact that the Fifth Circuit may take away this injunction at any moment.”

In a statement Wednesday night, Texas Right to Life, a major proponent of SB 8, pointed out that provision, saying abortion providers “can still be held liable for any abortions they commit in violation of the law.”

"Those who aid or abet abortions, even if currently permitted by this ruling, could eventually be sued for their actions today,” the anti-abortion group said.

Duane said the situation remains legally “tenuous” and providers that are opening are doing so “bravely” and with compassion for their patients.

Legal experts say the Fifth Circuit could intervene relatively quickly.

Carl Tobias, a professor at the University of Richmond School of Law, told KUT he expects a ruling any moment and that abortion providers will have very little time to make decisions about what to do.

“They may have a window,” he said, “but it will be a short window.”

Got a tip? Email Ashley Lopez at alopez@kut.org. Follow her on Twitter @AshLopezRadio.

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