Texas judge temporarily shields clinics from anti-abortion group's lawsuits

Texas judge temporarily shields clinics from anti-abortion group's lawsuits

A Texas state judge issued a temporary restraining order against an anti-abortion group Friday, preventing it from suing abortion providers employed by Planned Parenthood under a harsh new abortion law that went into effect earlier this week.

Travis County District Judge Maya Guerra Gamble ruled that under the Senate Bill 8 law, Planned Parenthood faced and its staff and patients faced "probable, irreparable, and imminent injury" if they were sued by the nonprofit group Texas Right to Life, its legislative director and 100 unidentified individuals.

However, her three-page order does not prevent others from using the new law against Planned Parenthood or other abortion providers in Texas.

A hearing on a preliminary injunction request was set for Sept. 13.

Texas' new abortion law is the most restrictive in the nation, and bans such a procedure once a doctor can detect a fetal heartbeat, which is usually around six weeks and may even be before some women realize they're pregnant. The act makes an exception for medical emergencies that would affect the mother's health, but not for rape or incest.

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It came into effect on Wednesday after the U.S. Supreme Court did not act on abortion rights groups' request to block it, sparking alarm that the highest court in the land could be one step closer to overturning Roe v Wade, the landmark 1973 decision enshrining abortion rights protections.

The Supreme Court's decision was made in a 5-4 vote, with Chief Justice John Roberts dissenting with liberal justices Elena Kagan, Stephen Breyer and Sonia Sotomayor. Each justice wrote a separate opinion against the majority decision.

Praising the ruling in Travis County, Helene Krasnoff, vice president for public policy litigation and law at the Planned Parenthood Federation of America said in a statement that the organization was "relieved" that the court had acted so quickly to grant the temporary restraining order.

Branding the new law "draconian," Krasnoff said the Texas court's intervention would offer some respite to Planned Parenthood healthcare providers "who have continued to offer care as best they can within the law while facing surveillance, harassment, and threats from vigilantes eager to stop them."

She added that the organization would continue to fight the law by "doing everything we can under the law to restore Texans' federal constitutional right to access abortion."

Elizabeth Graham, a Texas Right to Life vice president, told Reuters in a statement that her group would "never back down" from its fight to block abortions from taking place in the state.

However, President Joe Biden said Thursday that he would launch a "whole-of-government" response to see what can be done to prevent that from happening.

In a statement, Biden said he was ordering the Office of the White House Counsel and his Gender Policy Council to discuss with the Health and Human Services Department and the Justice Department what "legal tools" are available to protect abortion providers and those seeking the service from "the impact of Texas' bizarre scheme of outsourced enforcement to private parties.”

Otherwise, he said the state's new law “unleashes unconstitutional chaos and empowers self-anointed enforcers to have devastating impacts."

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