By Chuck Lindell
A federal judge temporarily on Thursday blocked a Texas law that would limit second-trimester abortions in a ruling that came one day before the regulation was to take effect.
U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel of Austin concluded that abortion providers established that, without a 14-day temporary restraining order, a Texas woman seeking an abortion after the 15th week of pregnancy could be denied access to "the most commonly used and safest" procedure available.
"The act leaves that woman and her physician with abortion procedures that are more complex, risky, expensive, difficult for many women to arrange, and often involve multi-day visits to physicians, and overnight hospital stays," the judge wrote.
Yeakel also set a hearing for Sept. 14 in Austin to consider whether to issue a preliminary injunction that could bar Texas from enforcing the law into the future.
The issue, like most contested laws seeking to regulate abortion, is destined for the higher courts. Both sides have said they will appeal a loss at the injunction stage.
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said he was disappointed by the ruling but remained committed to defending the law in court.
"Dismemberment abortions are gruesome and inhumane, which makes it troubling that a district court would block Texas' lawful authority to protect the life of unborn children from such a barbaric practice," said Marc Rylander, Paxton's spokesman.
Nancy Northup, president of the Center for Reproductive Rights, which sued to overturn the regulation, praised Yeakel for halting a "misguided law."
"Today's ruling is the latest victory upholding a woman's right to safe and legal abortion," she said.
Thursday's ruling came in response to a lawsuit by abortion providers seeking to void a provision in Senate Bill 8, passed by the Legislature in May, that bans what abortion opponents call "dismemberment abortions," which isn't a medical term but which would apply to dilation and evacuation procedures.
Abortion providers argued that SB 8 would effectively outlaw dilation and evacuation procedures by imposing medically unnecessary and risky conditions that would discourage doctors from conducting the procedure and place an unacceptable burden on women seeking a second-trimester abortion.
During a hearing before Yeakel on Tuesday, Darren McCarty, a lawyer for Paxton, denied that the regulation would ban dilation and evacuation abortions, arguing that the law merely requires doctors to ensure "fetal demise" before beginning the procedure.
Texas has a legitimate interest in regulating a procedure that is "inhumane and particularly gruesome," McCarty argued.
But a lawyer representing abortion clinics and doctors argued that the state identified three methods of causing fetal demise that carry increased health risks for women, aren't fully effective and are untested in pregnancies of less than 18 weeks, requiring doctors to essentially "experiment" on patients.
Abortion rights advocates believe the case can expand upon last year's U.S. Supreme Court ruling that required laws limiting access to abortion to have medical benefits that outweigh the burden imposed on women. That ruling overturned two Texas regulations, passed in 2013, that would have closed most abortion clinics in the state.
But John Seago, legislative director for Texas Right to Life, said the state law was his organization's top priority because it might build on a 2007 Supreme Court ruling that said states have a legitimate right to regulate inhumane abortion practices.
"That has not really been explored since 2007, and that's what this legislation was built to do," he said.
(c)2017 Austin American-Statesman, Texas