Abortions in Texas do not fully resume despite judge’s ruling

Clinics can be sued retroactively for up to four years for abortions provided during ban

At least six clinics in Texas in the United States returned to performing abortions the day after a federal judge halted enforcement of the nation's most restrictive abortion measure, but a majority had not, a reflection of the power of the law the judge froze.

The novel law, which banned most abortions in the state after cardiac activity is detected, about six weeks into pregnancy, continued to exert control over many clinics. Planned Parenthood, whose Texas affiliates operate seven centres that offer abortion services, said on Thursday that despite the ruling it was not carrying out abortions banned under the measure.

The law, which went into effect last month, has changed the landscape of the abortion fight through a unique design that makes it particularly difficult to challenge in court by putting enforcement on citizens, not the state. On Wednesday night, Judge Robert Pitman of US District Court in Austin sided with the justice department, which had sued to halt the law's enforcement.

But after weighing the risks, most of the state’s abortion clinics – there are about 24 across Texas – decided not to resume abortions on women whose pregnancies exceeded six weeks because of another of the law’s unique features: Clinics can be sued retroactively for up to four years for any abortions they provide while the measure is blocked.


"Today we are not scheduling abortion appointments past six weeks while we figure out what is possible," said Ianthe Metzger, a spokeswoman for Planned Parenthood Federation of America. She said the situation was fluid.

“The status quo on the ground hasn’t changed today,” she said on Thursday, “but tomorrow it might,” depending on affiliate clinics’ conversations with their lawyers and staff members.

Kelly Krause, a spokeswoman for the Center for Reproductive Rights, which represents clinics in court, said at least six Texas clinics were either providing abortions past six weeks on Thursday or were scheduling appointments for women to soon have the procedure.

Still, clinics face an uphill battle. The state of Texas has already notified the Fifth US Circuit Court of Appeals, one of the most conservative courts in the country, that it would appeal. The suspension by Mr Pitman, who was appointed by former US president Barack Obama in 2014, could be over-ruled relatively soon, potentially within days, legal experts said. – This article originally appeared in the New York Times