Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals reinstates Texas Heartbeat Act


UPDATE, 10/14/21: The Texas Heartbeat Act will remain in effect as the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit Court has sided with the state of Texas and against the Biden Administration’s Department of Justice which is attempting to block the law. The Heartbeat Act restricts abortion in Texas to before a preborn child’s heartbeat can be detected, usually at about six weeks.

According to The Washington Post, in a 2-1 order, the appeals court refused the Justice Department’s request to reinstate an earlier ruling by a judge who blocked the law. The order was just four sentences long and did not go into details about the reasoning behind the court’s decision. However, it is expected that the ruling will be appealed to the Supreme Court.

UPDATE, 10/8/21: The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals has overturned the decision by Obama-appointee Judge Robert Pitman to temporarily block the Texas Heartbeat Act. The Act is now once again in effect, protecting preborn children once a heartbeat can be detected, at approximately six weeks gestation.

Newsweek was correct in its prediction that Pitman’s ruling could be quickly overturned, and it was, within two days. Yesterday, local station KWTX likewise reported that a quick response was possible, quoting a Planned Parenthood Greater Texas spokesperson as saying, “We don’t know how quickly the judge’s ruling could get overturned. That could come tomorrow. That could come over the weekend. So, if we only have a couple of days where this extreme abortion ban is being blocked that’s not very many patients who are going to be able to access abortions during that short window of time.”

As a result of the uncertainty surrounding Pitman’s ruling as well as the fact that the ability for citizens to file lawsuits remained in effect, some abortion facilities chose not to schedule abortion patients. Others opted to commit as many abortions as possible. Interestingly, as KWTX noted, Planned Parenthood has been strongly encouraging women to seek out more reliable forms of birth control due to the passage of the Heartbeat Act.

10/6/21: A federal judge has temporarily blocked the Texas Heartbeat Act effective immediately, in what is the first successful legal blow to the country’s most restrictive abortion law. U.S. District Judge Robert Pitman issued his preliminary injunction on Wednesday in response to a lawsuit filed by the Biden administration.

The ruling means that the state can no longer enforce its heartbeat law, also known as SB 8, which restricts abortions once an embryonic heartbeat is detected, usually around six weeks. The law has been the subject of much controversy and many challenges since it was implemented on September 1, but Pitman’s decision is the first to rule in favor of the abortion advocates who have been relentless in their fight against the bill, with even the U.S. Supreme Court previously declining to intervene and halt the law.

In his 113-page ruling, Pitman did not mince his words, calling the law an “unprecedented and aggressive scheme to deprive its citizens of a significant and well-established constitutional right.”

“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,” he wrote, according to the Wall Street Journal. “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.”

READ: Texas lawmakers receive ‘credible threats’ of violence over heartbeat law

Pitman also took issue with the state’s method of enforcing the law, which allows for anyone to sue someone who commits an abortion or helps a woman obtain an abortion. “A person’s right under the Constitution to choose to obtain an abortion prior to fetal viability is well established,” he wrote. “Fully aware that depriving its citizens of this right by direct state action would be flagrantly unconstitutional, the State contrived an unprecedented and transparent statutory scheme to do just that.”

Attorney Jonathan Saenz, president of the group Texas Values, wrote in an email, “This heartbeat law ruling is all politics and no law. No one is surprised that an Obama-appointed judge cooked up some bogus reasons for telling our Texas state judges and clerks that they can’t do their jobs. We know this will be overturned, probably by the end of this week. Lives are at stake and we will do everything in our power to protect a baby with a beating heart.”

Pitman’s ruling comes after the Supreme Court decided last month not to block the law as it went into effect. However, that decision stemmed from procedural reasons and did not touch on the constitutionality of the law, which means that SCOTUS could rule on the legislation at a later date. With Pitman’s ruling and an expected Texas appeal, there is now a greater chance that the Supreme Court could eventually hear the case in the future.

According to CNN, a lawyer from the Texas Attorney General’s office has indicated that the state will appeal to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

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