Federal Judge Temporarily Halts Law Banning Safest Type of Second-Trimester Abortion

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A federal judge has temporarily blocked a Texas law prohibiting the safest second-trimester abortion procedure the day before it was set to go into effect.

In his Thursday ruling, which puts the law's enforcement on hold for 14 days, U.S. Judge Lee Yeakel relied on a simple argument: Abortion is legal.

"The state cannot pursue its interest in a way that denies a woman her constitutionally protected rights to terminate a pregnancy before the fetus is viable," he wrote.

Senate Bill 8 would prohibit an abortion procedure called "dilation and evacuation" (or D&E), the safest and most common form of an abortion after 12 weeks into a pregnancy. The only alternatives to D&E are inducing labor to make a woman deliver the fetus or go under the knife for a procedure similar to a hysterectomy — both procedures that abortion doctors say are incredibly risky and expensive.

Multiple medical organizations have come out against SB 8, since it encourages women to undergo dangerous procedures, ones that go against a doctor's best medical judgement. It could also push women to take their abortion into their own hands by taking untested, illegal pills, or inflicting physical abuse on their own bodies to induce a miscarriage.

"It's already happening in Texas," said Bhavik Kumar, the Texas medical director for abortion provider Whole Women's Health, in a June interview with the Current. "I can only imagine that's going to get worse with this bill."

Yeakel appeared to agree, writing that SB 8 "leaves that woman and her physician with abortion procedures that are more complex, risky, expensive, difficult for many women to arrange, and often involve multi-day visits to physicians, and overnight hospital stays."

Whole Women's Health is the lead plaintiff in the lawsuit against SB 8, which was signed into law in June by Gov. Greg Abbott. The Center for Reproductive Rights filed the lawsuit on behalf of WWH back in July, joined by Planned Parenthood and a handful of other Texas abortion clinics and medical doctors.

"This ruling means that patients and doctors can together make decisions based on medical science rather than political goals," wrote Ken Lambrecht president of Planned Parenthood of Greater Texas, in a press statement.

Amy Hagstrom Miller, WWH CEO, said she was "elated" with Yeakel's last-minute decision — but understands this is just a step in a bigger court battle.

"Knowing that this is just the beginning of this legal fight, we ask our communities to remain vigilant and to educate themselves on the harmful effects of these abortion restrictions," she wrote in a press statement. "Please know that our commitment to fighting these laws will not go away."

This isn't the first time Hagstrom Miller has taken Texas to court over its restrictive abortion laws. In 2013, WWH sued the state over House Bill 2, a sweeping anti-abortion legislation that used onerous building regulations and other unnecessary legal hurdles to shut down more than half of the abortion clinics in Texas. The fight ended in June 2016, when the U.S. Supreme Court threw out HB 2 for placing an "undue burden" on Texas women seeking a legal abortion. CRR, who represented WWH, is still waiting on the state of Texas to hand over $4.8 million dollars for the win. Yeakel relied on this ruling to form his decision.

Yeakel's ruling, however, only places a 14-day hold on the law's enforcement — WWH (again represented by CRR lawyers) must again prove to Yeakel that the court must place a preliminary injunction on SB 8 in a September 14 hearing in Austin. An injunction would promise WWH that SB 8 wouldn't go into effect while Texas and CRR lawyers hash out the constitutionality of SB 8 in Yeakel's courtroom.


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