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Texas Supreme Court blocks order that allowed abortions to resume

The top courts in Texas and Ohio on July 1 allowed the Republican-led states to enforce abortion bans and restrictions after the Supreme Court overturned Roe. (Video: Reuters, Photo: Eric Gay/AP/Reuters)
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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 that had temporarily allowed the procedures to resume.

The Texas Supreme Court in Austin granted an “emergency motion for temporary relief” requested by the state’s attorney general, Republican Ken Paxton, on Wednesday that prevents a lower court order from taking effect.

Texas had a nearly century-old abortion ban on the books for the past 50 years while Roe v. Wade was in place. After the Supreme Court overturned Roe on June 24, Paxton advised that prosecutors could now enforce the 1925 law, which he called a “100% good law” on Twitter. However, abortion rights groups and clinics sued, arguing that it should be interpreted as repealed and unenforceable.

On Tuesday, a judge in Harris County, Tex., granted a temporary order until at least July 12 when arguments are scheduled — to allow clinics to offer abortions for at least two weeks without criminal prosecution. Judge Christine Weems (D), who serves in an elected post, 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.”

Clinics raced to take advantage of that fleeting reprieve.

Paxton then asked the state’s highest court, which is stocked with nine Republican justices, to temporarily put the lower court order on hold. The state’s Supreme Court order from late Friday allows for civil, but not criminal, enforcement of the ban, according to the plaintiffs including the American Civil Liberties Union and the Center for Reproductive Rights.

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.”

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. It 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.

Shayna Jacobs, Caroline Kitchener and Meryl Kornfield contributed to this report.

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