Federal appeals court temporarily allows Texas abortion law to continue

A Texas law that bars abortions as early as six weeks into pregnancy can continue for the time being, the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals said late Friday. The ruling comes two days after a federal judge temporarily prohibited the state from enforcing the law through a preliminary injunction.

The decision comes hours after Ken Paxton, Texas’ attorney general, filed a motion asking the court to either stop the preliminary injunction, or to temporarily pause it while considering the first request. 

A three-judge panel granted the second request, placing an administrative stay on the injunction while it considers Texas’ larger argument. The Department of Justice now has until Tuesday to respond to Texas’ motion. 

The decision comes after Judge Robert L. Pitman on Wednesday granted the Department of Justice’s motion for a temporary injunction while the constitutionality of the law is further litigated in the courts.

“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,” the order read. “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.”

Pitman also denied the state’s motion to dismiss the Justice Department’s lawsuit challenging the law.

Republican Governor Greg Abbott signed the measure into law in May, with Texas joining a dozen other states that have passed laws banning abortions at early stages in pregnancy. The bills seek to ban the procedure after a fetal heartbeat can first be detected. 

Attorney General Merrick Garland released a statement after the Texas abortion ban took effect last month, promising the Justice Department would “continue to protect” the safety of Texas women seeking abortions.

Nicole Sganga, Rob Legare and Caroline Linton contributed reporting.