Texas Supreme Court blocks order that allowed abortions to resume

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Legal wrangling over abortions in Texas took a further twist late Friday, after the state Supreme Court blocked a lower court order issued just days earlier that had temporarily allowed the procedures to resume.

The Texas Supreme Court in Austin granted an “emergency motion for temporary relief” that was filed Wednesday by the state’s attorney general, Republican Ken Paxton, staying a temporary restraining order that had been granted earlier this week by a judge in Harris County. A further state Supreme Court hearing is scheduled for later this month.

Texas has left a nearly century-old abortion ban on the statute books for the past 50 years while Roe v. wade was in place. With Roe struck down, Paxton had advised that prosecutors could now enforce the 1925 law, which he called a “100% good law” on Twitter. However, the claimants have argued that it should be interpreted as repealed and unenforceable.

On Tuesday, a Harris County judge granted a temporary restraining order until at least July 12 to allow clinics to offer abortions for at least two weeks without criminal prosecution, days after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. wade to end a constitutional right to abortion.

Clinics that had sued the state stopped their abortion procedures after the ruling but raced to take advantage of a fleeting reprieve Tuesday after elected Judge Christine Weems (D) ruled that a pre-Roe ban enforced by Paxton and prosecutors would “inevitably and irreparably chill the provision of abortions in the vital last weeks in which safer abortion care remains available and lawful in Texas.”

Paxton then asked the state’s highest court, which is stocked with nine Republican justices, to temporarily put the lower court order on hold, which they did in Friday’s decision. The state Supreme Court order allows civil, but not criminal, enforcement of the ban.

Abortions in Texas can temporarily resume, judge rules

The flurry of litigation has thrown abortion clinics and patients in Texas into disarray, with many people rebooking and canceling appointments and travel plans as they scramble to navigate the new legal landscape.

“These laws are confusing, unnecessary, and cruel,” Marc Hearron, senior counsel at the Center for Reproductive Rights advocacy group, said in a statement following Friday’s ruling. The American Civil Liberties Union, also a party to the legal proceedings, said it “won’t stop fighting to ensure that as many people as possible, for as long as possible, can access the essential reproductive health care they need,” according to staff attorney Julia Kaye.

Texas had strict abortion laws in place even before Roe v. wade was overturned. Last year, Gov. Greg Abbott (R) signed into law Texas Senate Bill 8, also known as the Texas Heartbeat Act, which bans abortion after about six weeks of pregnancy — before many people even know they’re pregnant — with no exceptions for victims of rape, sexual abuse or incest. He also employed a novel legal strategy that empowered ordinary people to enforce the law by suing anyone who may have helped facilitate the abortion.

This Texas teen wanted an abortion. She now has twins.

Tuesday’s temporary restraining order was seen by many reproductive rights advocates as a last chance for clinics to offer abortions, as Texas is one of 13 states in the country with a “trigger ban” in place. The “trigger ban,” which was preemptively designed to be enforced in the event Roe was struck down, is scheduled to take effect in the coming weeks.

Caroline Kitchener and Meryl Kornfield contributed to this report.

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