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Texas judge blocks state's pre-Roe ban, allows some abortions to continue

 A person holds a sign reading "My abortion saved my life" at a rally in front of the federal courthouse in downtown Austin.
Patricia Lim
Demonstrators rally outside the federal courthouse in downtown Austin on Friday after the Supreme Court's decision overturning Roe v. Wade.

A Harris County judge on Tuesday blocked Texas officials from enforcing a decades-old abortion ban, effectively allowing health providers to perform the procedure without the threat of prosecution.

With the temporary restraining order issued by Judge Christine Weems, abortions done up to six weeks of gestation will be able to resume in the state.

“It is a relief that this Texas state court acted so quickly to block this deeply harmful abortion ban,” Marc Hearron, the senior counsel at the Center for Reproductive Rights, said in a statement. “This decision will allow abortion services to resume at many clinics across the state. … Every hour that abortion is accessible in Texas is a victory.”

The Center for Reproductive Rights, the ACLU of Texas, and two law firms joined forces Monday to represent a coalition of abortion providers in Texas and challenge the pre-Roe ban.

In an email, the ACLU said only the clinics named as plaintiffs will be able to resume the procedure. They are: Whole Woman's Health, Whole Woman's Health Alliance, Alamo City Surgery Center, Brookside Women's Health Center, Austin Women's Health Center, Houston Women's Clinic, Houston Women's Reproductive Services and Southwestern Women's Surgery Center.

“Any day that we are able to provide the abortions Texans need and deserve is a good day!” Amy Hagstrom Miller, president and CEO of Whole Woman’s Health and Whole Woman’s Health Alliance, said in a statement Tuesday. “This TRO means that we now have the opportunity to open our doors in Texas before the trigger ban takes effect a month or two from now.”

Julia Kaye, staff attorney with the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project, said the temporary restraining order "will save countless pregnant Texans from the life-altering medical, emotional, financial, and educational consequences of having their bodies held hostage by state politicians.”

A hearing for a temporary injunction has been set for July 12.

In a tweet Tuesday afternoon, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said the state will appeal the decision.

Currently, Texas bans the procedure after six weeks of gestation. A so-called trigger law passed last year by the Texas Legislature will eliminate nearly all abortions when it goes into effect 30 days after the court issues its judgment. That could happen in about a month, Paxton said.

The lawsuit came in response to Paxton’s recentadvisory — published after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned abortion rights in Texas — in which he said prosecutors could pursue criminal charges against medical providers “based on violations of Texas abortion prohibitions predating Roe that were never repealed by the Texas Legislature.”

The 1925 law was in effect until the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court decision on Roe v. Wade. It made performing an abortion punishable with up to five years in prison.

“Although these statutes were unenforceable while Roe was on the books, they are still Texas law,” Paxton claimed.

But plaintiffs claimed the old law had been repealed with the passage of Roe v. Wade.

Harris County Attorney Christian Menefee said it was “shameful” for Paxton to encourage prosecutors to go after providers under laws that are “clearly no longer enforceable.”

“It’s reprehensible that our Attorney General would invoke laws dating back to the 1920s – we all know what types of laws were on the books in the south during that time,” he said in a statement. “Our state leadership should not be trying to take Texans back to those times.”

Sergio Martínez-Beltrán is the former Texas Capitol reporter for The Texas Newsroom.
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