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A judge in Texas on Tuesday temporarily blocked a state abortion ban linked to the US supreme court decision which last week overturned the ruling guaranteeing the right to terminate pregnancies.
Across Republican-run states, abortion rights advocates are filing lawsuits seeking to delay implementation of so-called trigger bans, designed to go into effect as soon as the supreme court overturned Roe v Wade, the landmark 1973 ruling granting nationwide access to abortions.
A court dominated by conservatives did so on Friday, a seismic event in American history which prompted protest and counter-protest.
The lawsuit at the center of Tuesday’s decision in Texas was filed in Harris county, which covers Houston, by the American Civil Liberties Union and on behalf of local women’s health providers.
It concerned a 1925 abortion ban resurrected by the state before its trigger law could pass, and the suit named among its defendants Ken Paxton, Texas’s Republican attorney general.
In a statement, the ACLU said: “On Friday, within hours of the supreme court’s decision, the Texas attorney general put out an advisory stating that the state’s trigger ban, which bans abortion almost entirely, will not take effect for approximately two months or longer.
“But in that same advisory … the attorney general said that ‘abortion providers could be criminally liable for providing abortions starting today’ based on the state’s ‘abortion prohibitions predating Roe’.”
Texas passed a six-week ban in 2021. In January, the supreme court let it stand – a move many saw as a clear signal of the Roe ruling to come.
Under the 1925 law to which Paxton pointed, however, abortions at any stage would only be allowed to save the woman’s life.
On Tuesday, a judge issued a temporary restraining order and set a hearing for 12 July. That meant abortions up to six weeks of pregnancy could resume for at least two weeks.
Marc Hearron, an attorney for the plaintiffs, told reporters: “We all know, Texas has had for 10 months now an abortion ban prohibiting abortions to six weeks of pregnancy, which is before most people know they’re pregnant. So we’re still talking about a short window for abortions.
“Many Texans are still going to have to flee the state, trying to find an appointment in other states where abortion is not illegal. But at least for today, we can say that abortion providers cannot be prosecuted for the time being, for providing abortions before six weeks.”
Democrats across the US are attempting to slow or counter abortion bans at state and local levels, or to provide assistance to women from states where abortion is banned. Some prosecutors have said they will not enforce abortion bans in their jurisdictions.
On Tuesday, the attorney general of New York, Letitia James, announced the creation of a coalition with “24 national law firms and eight reproductive rights organisations [of] a legal hotline that will provide legal guidance and resources to patients, healthcare providers and supporters seeking information about their legal rights to access and provide abortions”.
Referring to the Mississippi case which overturned Roe, Nancy Northup, president of the Center for Reproductive Rights, said the hotline aimed to “cut through the legal chaos left in the wake of the supreme court’s precedent-breaking and ruinous Dobbs decision”.
On the west coast, Democrats in California are seeking to enshrine the right to abortion in the state constitution.
In Houston, Hearron, the attorney, said: “Every hour that abortion is accessible in Texas is a victory.”