Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton has filed an appeals of a ruling a federal judge issued late last night that temporarily blocked the Texas abortion ban, which is credited with saving thousands of babies from abortion.
As LifeNews reported, U.S. District Judge Robert Pitman, who was appointed by Barack Obama, sided with the Biden administration’s Justice Department, which sued the state, arguing Texas’ law was unconstitutional because it went agaisnt Roe v. Wade.
Shortly after Judge Pitman issued his order, Texas officials quickly appealed and they are seeking an emergency stay of Pitman’s order in the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, which is known as perhaps the nation’s most conservative appellate court.
Typically, state governments enforce pro-life laws and, when the laws are challenged, judges can block the states from enforcing them in a preliminary injunction. However, the Texas law leaves enforcement up to individual people. So, judges are considering whether they can stop all private citizens from enforcing the law – especially without allowing private citizens the chance to defend themselves in court first.
Pitman’s order prohibits state court judges and court clerks from accepting lawsuits that the law allows. That would seemingly block the abortion ban from being enforced via private lawsuit but even pro-abortion groups issued statements saying it is unclear if abortions are temporarily allowed or not. Pitman blocked Texas and “any other persons or entities acting on its behalf” from enforcing the statute, but that would also seemingly allow pro-life citizens and pro-life groups to file lawsuits against abortion practitioners for killing babies.
Thus the legal status of abortion today is uncertain because the law, even if blocked, still allows lawsuits against anyone killing babies in abortions or assisting them.
One law professor told the liberal Texas Tribune that he thinks the 5th Circuit will put Pitman’s ruling on hold as early as today.
“The court will likely put the trial court judgment on hold,” Josh Blackman, a constitutional law professor at South Texas College of Law Houston, said in an email. “Clinics that perform abortions now risk facing liability if the Fifth Circuit stays the ruling.”
Attorneys for Texas said Biden’s Department of Justice is being unfair by asking the court to block “absent third parties” from enforcing the law “without letting them be heard.”
The Texas law went into effect Sept. 1, prohibiting abortions once an unborn baby’s heartbeat is detectable, about six weeks of pregnancy. Thus far, the courts have refused to temporarily block the law, and as many as 3,000 unborn babies already have been spared from abortion.
On Friday, attorneys for the Department of Justice argued that the law is unconstitutional and the federal government has an interest in seeing it blocked.
Today, Judge Pitman issued the ruling they were hoping for and endorsed abortion in the process.
“The United States is substantially likely to succeed on the merits of its claims. It is substantially likely that S.B. 8 violates the Fourteenth Amendment,” the judge wrote. “From the moment S.B. 8 went into effect, women have been unlawfully prevented from exercising control over their lives in ways that are protected by the Constitution. That other courts may find a way to avoid this conclusion is theirs to decide; this Court will not sanction one more day of this offensive deprivation of such an important right.”
The victory ,may be short-lived as Texas told the judge Friday that, if Biden prevailed, the state would appeal to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which had rejected a previous effort from abortion businesses to block the law.
In comments to LifeNews.com, Texas Right to Life blasted the opinion:
The ruling is wildly broad, preventing Texas state officials from enforcing the law, including the shocking order to block every Texas judge and court clerk from even receiving lawsuits filed by citizens against the abortion industry. The provision blocking lawmakers is entirely unnecessary since the language of the Texas Heartbeat Act already prohibits government officials from enforcing the policy. However, Pitman’s effort to obstruct state judges and court clerks from fulfilling their lawful duties is astonishing.
This is the legacy of Roe v. Wade: Judges catering to the abortion industry, crafting a conclusion first and then searching the depths of legal literature for a rationale later.
Pro-Life attorneys are likely to appeal the decision to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals immediately, in which we expect a fair hearing.
Until a higher court intervenes, the disappointing reality is that Pitman’s ruling will likely stop the Texas Heartbeat Act from being enforced.
Texas Right to Life maintained that abortionists could still be sued for violating the abortion ban, despite the ruling.
However, even with this ruling, abortionists can still be held liable for any abortions they commit in violation of the law.
The Texas Heartbeat Act states that an individual being sued under the law cannot claim as an affirmative defense that they were acting under the protection of a court order that had since been reversed or overturned:
“Notwithstanding any other law, the following [is] not a defense to an action brought under this section… a defendant’s reliance on any court decision that has been overruled on appeal or by a subsequent court, even if that court decision had not been overruled when the defendant engaged in conduct that violates this subchapter;” (Section 171.208(e)(3), Texas Health and Safety Code)Thus, those who aid or abet abortions, even if currently permitted by this ruling, could eventually be sued for their actions today.
“Texas Right to Life is dedicated to holding the abortion industry accountable to the fullest extent possible under the law. We are confident that the Texas Heartbeat Act will ultimately withstand this legal challenge and succeed where other states’ heartbeat bills have not,” the pro-life group concluded.
The pro-life group Susan B. Anthony List also commented to LifeNews on Judge Pitman’s decision.
“The people of Texas speaking through their state legislators acted to protect unborn children with beating hearts, who are as human as you and me,” said SBA List President Marjorie Dannenfelser. “The Heartbeat Act is estimated to have saved more than 4,700 babies since it took effect over a month ago. Now an unelected judge has interfered with the clearly expressed will of Texans. For two generations, the U.S. Supreme Court has tied the hands of states to enact laws protecting unborn children and their mothers. It is time to restore this right to the people and update our laws.”
Judge Pitman’s ruling comes roughly one month after the law went into effect on Sept. 1. The Supreme Court declined to block its enactment, leaving the law in place while litigation against it continues in lower courts.
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“Texas has made clear it does not want to follow the Supreme Court‘s abortion precedents,” federal government attorney Brian Netter said during Friday’s hearing.
He asked the judge to issue an injunction blocking Texas and “all of its officers, employees and agents, including private parties” from suing abortionists who violate the law, CNN reports.
“The state resorted to an unprecedented scheme of vigilante justice that was designed to scare abortion providers and others who might help women exercise their constitutional rights, while skirting judicial review,” Netter said.
However, Will Thompson, an attorney representing Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s Office, told the judge that the federal government is using “inflammatory rhetoric” to attack the law, and the heartbeat law is not the only legislation that allows private enforcement.
“This is not some kind of vigilante scheme. It’s a scheme that uses the normal and lawful process,” Thompson said.
Netter contended that private citizens really are just acting for the state as a proxy to enforce the law. The judge asked Thompson about this claim.
Afterward, Texas Right to Life slammed the Biden administration’s arguments as “maniacal” and “entirely unprecedented.”
Kimberlyn Schwartz, director of media and communications, summarized the hearing: “Ultimately, the Justice Department is asking the court to toss out all logic and judicial precedent in order to cater to the abortion industry. The Biden administration’s case is desperate and far-fetched, and we expect an impartial court to declare the lawsuit without merit.”
Judge Pitman is an appointee of pro-abortion President Barack Obama. In September, he did not grant the Biden administration’s request to immediately block enforcement of the law. As a result, the law remains in effect, and pro-life advocates say hundreds of babies have been spared from abortion since then.
It is not clear when Pitman will issue his ruling, but CNN previously pointed out that even if he does issue a preliminary injunction, some abortion facilities may not start aborting unborn babies again right away.
According to the report: “… under the law, a clinic could still be liable if it performed an abortion prohibited by the law while the court’s order was in effect, if that same order was later reversed by a higher court.”
The Biden administration has taken multiple actions to thwart Texas’s efforts to save unborn babies from abortion. Along with the lawsuit, it also set aside $10 million – taxpayers’ money – to provide grants to the abortion industry in Texas and make additional Title X family planning funds available.
In 2020, about 54,000 unborn babies were aborted in Texas, and about 85 percent happened after six weeks of pregnancy, according to state health statistics.
While abortion activists say some women are traveling to other states for abortions, they admit that others are having their babies instead.
Meanwhile, pro-life advocates are reaching out to pregnant women across Texas with compassion and understanding, offering resources and emotional support to help them and their babies. Earlier this year, state lawmakers increased support for pregnant and parenting mothers and babies, ensuring that they have resources to choose life for their babies.
About a dozen states have passed heartbeat laws to protect unborn babies from abortion, but Texas is the first to be allowed to enforce its law. Whether the law will remain in effect or ultimately be upheld as constitutional in court remains uncertain, but pro-life leaders are hopeful now that the U.S. Supreme Court has a conservative majority.