HOUSTON (LifeSiteNews) — U.S. District Judge Robert Pitman rejected a request from the Biden administration to block Texas’s recently-enacted ban on abortion after a heartbeat is detectable, continuing the state’s de facto suspension of abortions after six weeks while the argument over the law’s constitutionality works its way through the system.
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.”
This unique enforcement mechanism has been credited for the U.S. Supreme Court’s surprising decision not to block the law 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, Pitman scheduled a hearing on arguments for and against temporarily blocking the law for October 1. The Biden Department of Justice (DOJ) had filed a motion to block the law immediately.
The DOJ argued that Texas was in violation of judicial precedent ruling that “a State may not prohibit any woman from making the ultimate decision to terminate her pregnancy before viability.” It further called the law “an unprecedented scheme that seeks to deny women and providers the ability to challenge S.B. 8 in federal court,” and declaring that “attempt[ing] to shield a plainly unconstitutional law from review cannot stand.”
But Pitman denied the request in a one-paragraph order, declaring simply that the case “presents complex, important questions of law that merit a full opportunity for the parties to present their positions to the Court,” as he had previously ruled.
The decision gives the heartbeat law another temporary reprieve, continuing the suspension of abortions at least through the hearing starting next month. Pitman could still decide to issue the restraining order at the conclusion of that hearing, however.
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.