A US federal appeals court has temporarily reinstated a contentious Texas law banning abortion after six weeks of pregnancy — overturning a decision by a judge earlier this week to suspend it.
The move late on Friday night by the Fifth Circuit court of appeals, based in New Orleans and perceived to lean conservative, highlights the obstacles facing the US justice department as it challenges the most extreme effort by a Republican-led state to restrict reproductive rights in America.
The court gave the justice department until Tuesday to respond to a Texas motion to halt the law’s temporary suspension.
The appeals court’s decision comes after US district judge Robert Pitman on Wednesday ordered Texas to suspend the enforcement of the statute, which outlaws abortion after roughly six weeks of pregnancy, before many women know they are pregnant, without exceptions for instances of rape or incest.
In a scathing ruling, Pitman said that from the moment the law came into effect on September 1, “women have been unlawfully prevented from exercising control over their lives in ways that are protected by the constitution . . . This court will not sanction one more day of this offensive deprivation of such an important right.”
The law allows individuals, rather than the state, to report people to the authorities for helping women have abortions, and to potentially receive at least a $10,000 payment for doing so. Experts have described the structure of the law as an effort to sidestep Supreme Court decisions that prohibit states from outlawing abortions before the foetus reaches “viability”.
In its lawsuit against Texas last month, the US Department of Justice argued the state’s abortion ban law was “in open defiance of the constitution” and “deputises all private citizens without any showing of personal connection or injury to serve as bounty hunters”.
Planned Parenthood on Twitter said that due to Friday’s ruling, “constitutional protections for abortion are once again meaningless to Texans, who are once again forced to travel out-of-state for essential healthcare”.
Brian Netter, who last week represented the justice department before Pitman, argued the new law was a scheme “designed to work through deterrence . . . [and] to stack the deck” against those aiding women seeking abortions.
William Thompson, who defended the statute in oral arguments for the Texas attorney-general’s office, last week argued in court that the new measures used “normal, lawful process of justice in Texas” and were not a “vigilante scheme”.
The justice department and the attorney-general’s office in Texas did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the appeals court’s decision.