Texas judge temporarily shields abortion clinics from some lawsuits under new law

·3 min read
 (AFP via Getty Images)
(AFP via Getty Images)

A state judge has temporarily shielded Texas abortion clinics from lawsuits by an anti-abortion group under the controversial new state abortion law.

The temporary restraining order handed down on Friday by state District Judge Maya Guerra Gamble in Austin came in response to a request by Planned Parenthood that does not directly interfere with the new law.

However, it does shield clinics from whistleblower lawsuits by the nonprofit group Texas Right to Life, its legislative director, and 100 unidentified individuals.

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

The new legislation, dubbed the “heartbeat bill”, is the first of its kind in the US and has been likened to something out of the dystopian novel and TV series The Handmaid’s Tale by commentators.

Taking effect on Wednesday, it allows anyone, anywhere, to sue anyone connected to an abortion in which cardiac activity was detected in the embryo. This can occur as early as six weeks into a pregnancy — before most women even realise they are pregnant.

The petition filed by Planned Parenthood late on Thursday said that about 85 per cent to 90 per cent of people who obtain abortions in Texas are at least six weeks into pregnancy.

The order “offers protection to the brave health care providers and staff at Planned Parenthood health centers throughout Texas, 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,” said Planned Parenthood spokeswoman Helene Krasnoff in a statement.

However, the action will not deter Texas Right to Life’s efforts, said Elizabeth Graham, the group’s vice president.

In a statement, the group said: “We expect an impartial court will dismiss Planned Parenthood’s lawsuit. Until then, we will continue our diligent efforts to ensure the abortion industry fully follows” the new law.

The US Supreme Court, with a 6-3 conservative majority, voted down an attempt to block the new law, which means that in Texas, any private citizen can now sue a provider who breaks this law. They would then be rewarded with $10,000 and additional legal fees if successful.

It’s believed this may create abortion “bounty hunters”, and force Texas clinics out of business.

The vote was 5-4, with three Trump-appointed justices joining two other conservative justices. Dissenting were conservative Chief Justice John Roberts and the court’s three liberal justices.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor called the new law “flagrantly unconstitutional” and said it “flouts nearly 50 years of federal precedents”.

The landmark 1973 Roe v Wade ruling by the Supreme Court guaranteed women in the US the right to an abortion.

President Joe Biden said he has been and continues to be “a strong supporter of Roe v Wade”, and denounced the “vigilante system” created by the Texas law.

“Outrageously, it deputises private citizens to bring lawsuits against anyone who they believe has helped another person get an abortion, which might even include family members, health care workers, front desk staff at a health care clinic, or strangers with no connection to the individual,” Mr Biden said in a statement.

He has asked the Justice Department to examine ways in which to limit people from acting as bounty hunters.

With reporting by The Associated Press

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