(LifeSiteNews) — A federal judge’s decision this week to temporarily halt a Texas law banning abortion once a heartbeat is detectable has elicited mixed reactions from abortionists in the Lone Star State, with some resuming operations while others continue to wait and see.
Signed in May and put into effect on September 1, the Texas Heartbeat Act requires abortionists to screen for a preborn baby’s heartbeat and prohibits abortion if a heartbeat can be heard (generally as early as six weeks), with exceptions only for medical emergencies.
Instead of having the state prosecute violators, the law “exclusively” empowers private citizens to bring civil suits against abortionists, punishable by a minimum of $10,000 in statutory relief per abortion plus whatever additional injunctive relief is deemed “sufficient to prevent the defendant from violating this chapter or engaging in acts that aid or abet violations of this chapter.”
The Texas Heartbeat Act’s unique enforcement mechanism has been credited for the U.S. Supreme Court’s surprising decision not to block it from taking effect, as well as the decisions of abortion chains Planned Parenthood and Whole Woman’s Health to temporarily suspend abortions past six weeks in the state.
On Wednesday, however, U.S. District Judge Robert Pitman granted the Biden Justice Department’s request to temporarily block enforcement of the law, calling it an “unprecedented and aggressive scheme” to “deprive” Texans of a “significant and well-established constitutional right” to abortion. Pitman, who previously declined to block the law as quickly as the Biden administration wanted, further declared that “this Court will not sanction one more day of this offensive deprivation of such an important right.”
In response, Whole Woman’s Health chief executive Amy Hagstrom Miller says her business will begin resuming abortions for an unspecified number of clients who put their names on a waiting list while the law was in effect, Reuters reports.
But other abortionists are reportedly “leery” of returning to business as usual, in light of the state appealing Pitman’s decision to the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. “We are confident that the appellate courts will agree that every child with a heartbeat should have a chance at life,” Renae Eze, press secretary for Republican Gov. Greg Abbott, told the Washington Examiner.
“Given the state’s appeal, our health centers may not have the days or even weeks it could take to navigate new patients through Texas’s onerous abortion restrictions,” reads a joint statement by the heads of Planned Parenthood South Texas, Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast, and Planned Parenthood Greater Texas.
One major source of leeriness is a provision of the Heartbeat Act that says abortionists may still be sued if a future ruling reinstates the law after being struck down, which Drexel University law professor David Cohen says puts any abortion facility that resumes abortions while the law was on the books, even if permitted to do so by judicial injunction, in a “very precarious position.”
Ultimately, the fate of the Texas Heartbeat Act and other abortion bans will be decided by the Supreme Court, whether in a future lawsuit about the substance of the law or in an upcoming case concerning Mississippi’s ban on abortion at 15 weeks. All interested parties are anxiously awaiting such a showdown, as it is expected to be the most conclusive test yet as to just how pro-life the Supreme Court’s current majority truly is.