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Texas can enforce its 1925 abortion ban, the state Supreme Court ruled late Friday night, a decision that exposes abortion providers to lawsuits and financial penalties if they continue to perform the procedure.
The court overruled a district judge in Houston, who on Tuesday had temporarily blocked the state’s old abortion law from going into effect. This law made the performance of an abortion, by any method, punishable by two to 10 years in prison.
Friday’s ruling does not allow prosecutors to bring criminal charges against abortion providers, but it does expose anyone who helps obtain an abortion to fines and prosecution.
On June 24, the Federal Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 case that asserted that access to abortion was constitutionally protected. The Texas Legislature passed a ‘trigger law’ last year that would automatically ban abortion from the time of fertilization 30 days after a Supreme Court ruling, which usually comes about a month after the initial notice. .
Abortion rights groups filed a lawsuit on Monday hoping to extend the period the procedure remains legal in Texas. They argued that the 1925 ban was effectively repealed when the Supreme Court issued its decision in Roe v. Wade and therefore cannot be applied now.
“These laws are confusing, unnecessary and cruel,” Marc Hearron, senior attorney at the Center for Reproductive Rights, which is not part of the lawsuit, said in a statement. “Texas’ trigger ban is not expected to go into effect for two months or more. This nearly 100-year-old law prematurely bans essential health care, although it was clearly long since repealed.
Because the Legislature never repealed its pre-Roe law banning abortion, some conservative lawmakers and legal scholars have argued that abortion was once again illegal in Texas by the time the Supreme Court announced its decision.
“Although these laws were unenforceable while Roe was on the books, they are still Texas law,” Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said June 24.
Clinics in Texas began turning away patients the day of the federal court ruling. Nonprofits that help people access and afford abortion have stopped handing out aid.
Some clinics resumed offering abortions on Tuesday, after a Houston judge temporarily halted enforcement of the state’s pre-Roe ban, though Paxton said he would still try to prosecute them if the Court the state’s Supreme Court was rescinding that temporary restraining order, which it did on Friday.
Whole Women’s Health, one of the abortion providers that is a party to the case, said Saturday it would halt its work in Texas again.
“This morning, our clinic staff entered into heartbreaking conversations with patients whose appointments need to be canceled, and our clinics began the process of closing,” President Amy Hagstrom Miller said in a statement.
A hearing is scheduled for July 12 to decide on a more permanent injunction. The case will eventually be heard on its merits, though in reality the trigger law that will go into effect in about two months will ensure that Texas abortion is outlawed whether or not the 1925 law is enforced.
Some conservative lawmakers have said they intend to continue legislating on abortion in the next session, which begins in January. Because abortion is illegal in Texas except in rare cases to save the life of the mother, lawmakers said they would focus on improving adoption programs and preventing pregnant Texans from leaving the state for receive the procedure.
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