A federal appeals court ruled late Friday night that the Texas abortion ban can go back into effect and save babies from abortion once again.
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.
Last night, appellate judges blocked the lower court’s ruling. The administrative stay is not permanent, but the pro-life victory optimistically signals how the court may rule on the merits of the case.
Texas Right to Life Director of Media and Communication Kimberlyn Schwartz told LifeNews: “This is an answered prayer. The Texas Heartbeat Act saves approximately 100 lives from abortion per day, and we’re grateful that this tremendous impact will continue. We expect the Biden administration to appeal to the Supreme Court of the U.S., and we are confident Texas will continue to defeat these attacks on our life-saving efforts.”
She said, “Texas Right to Life continues to work with other states to replicate our success across the country.”
As soon as Judge Pitman issued his decision putting the ban on hold, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton appealed.
“We disagree with the Court’s decision and have already taken steps to immediately appeal it to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals,” Paxton wrote on Twitter Thursday morning. “The sanctity of human life is, and will always be, a top priority for me.”
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 prohibited state court judges and court clerks from accepting lawsuits that the law allows. That made it so some abortion businesses continued killing babies in abortions while others worried they would still not be able to do so legally because the law, even if blocked, still allows lawsuits against anyone killing babies in abortions or assisting them.
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.
Then, 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.”
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 came 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.”
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.