Pro-life leaders slam decision to halt Texas’ ‘heartbeat’ law

fetal heartbeat null/ Helen Sushitskaya/Shutterstock

Pro-life leaders on Wednesday responded to a federal judge blocking Texas’ pro-life “heartbeat” law, just more than one month after the law went into effect.

In a ruling on Wednesday, Oct. 6, Judge Robert Pitman of the Western District of Texas halted enforcement of the law by the state . The Texas Heartbeat Act (S.B. 8) restricts most abortions after detection of a fetal heartbeat, and is enforced through private civil lawsuits against those performing illegal abortions, as well as against those deemed culpable under the law of assisting in illegal abortions. Successful lawsuits can net at least $10,000 in damages.

The Biden administration had filed a complaint requesting a temporary restraining order on the state or anyone filing a lawsuit under the law.

Although Pitman would not order an injunction on future private lawsuits, his order halted any private actions under the law "to the extent" that they "would necessitate state action that is now prohibited." The state is barred from actions such as awarding damages to successful lawsuits or enforcing judgments in such cases.

“A person’s right under the Constitution to choose to obtain an abortion prior to fetal viability is well established,” Judge Pitman wrote in his decision.

In response, pro-life groups criticized the ruling.

"Judge Pittman's stonewalling of the Texas Heartbeat Act is a shameless example of unfettered judicial activism at its worst,” said Chelsey Youman, Texas state director of the group Human Coalition Action. “His historic injunction has no regard for the rule of law, and is more about partisan politics than a fair judgment of the law.”

“The people of Texas speaking through their state legislators acted to protect unborn children with beating hearts, who are as human as you and me,” said Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the Susan B. Anthony List.

“The Heartbeat Act is estimated to have saved more than 4,700 babies since it took effect over a month ago. Now an unelected judge has interfered with the clearly expressed will of Texans,” she wrote.

It is unclear how many lawsuits were filed under the Texas law.

The Biden administration applauded Wednesday’s ruling. Attorney General Merrick Garland hailed it as “a victory for women in Texas and for the rule of law.” White House press secretary Jen Psaki, in a statement late Wednesday evening, called it “an important step forward toward restoring the constitutional rights of women across the state of Texas.”

“The fight has only just begun,” she added, noting that Biden “supports codifying Roe v. Wade” and “has directed a whole-of-government response to S.B. 8.”

In his ruling on Wednesday, Judge Pitman wrote that Texas “contrived an unprecedented and transparent statutory scheme” that “circumvented the traditional process” of judicial review by allowing private citizens to enforce the law through lawsuits.

In his opinion and footnotes, Pitman made repeated references to “pregnant persons” and “pregnant people.”

“The Court finds that abortion is a safe and common medical procedure, based on the credible declarations of abortion providers founded on their education and experience,” he stated.

He also cited testimony from abortion providers that the law had resulted in a decrease in the number of abortions since it went into effect Sept. 1.

According to the Planned Parenthood Center for Choice facilities in Houston and Stafford, the facilities performed 52 of 63 scheduled abortions between Sept. 1 and Sept. 10, when they normally would have conducted 25 abortions per day. According to the facilities, “some patients had embryonic activity by the time they returned” for an abortion after their ultrasound appointment. Another provider overseeing four clinics testified that they had turned away more than 100 women between Sept. 1 and Sept. 14, Pitman wrote.

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Texas has appealed the ruling to the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals.

Youman stated that “abortion providers should remain on notice that SB 8 specifically allows them to be held liable for every preborn child who’s heartbeat they end for up to six years.”

This article was updated on Oct. 7.

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