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Federal Judge Blocks Texas Abortion Ban, Blasts “Offensive Deprivation of Such an Important Right”

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Image Credit: Amy Littlefield

A federal judge has temporarily blocked Texas’s near-total ban on abortions, granting the Justice Department’s emergency request to halt the law while courts consider its legality. In his ruling, Judge Robert Pitman slammed the Texas ban’s unconstitutionality, writing, “This Court will not sanction one more day of this offensive deprivation of such an important right.” “Judge Robert Pitman ruled and said what advocates in Texas and clinics operators in Texas have been saying all along … a near-total ban on abortion in the state of Texas is flagrantly unconstitutional,” says Amy Littlefield, abortion access correspondent for The Nation. Abortion clinics in the state are already moving quickly to resume abortions.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: In Texas, a federal judge has temporarily blocked the state’s near-total ban on abortions, granting the Justice Department’s emergency request to halt the law while courts consider its legality. In his ruling, Judge Robert Pitman slammed the Texas ban’s unconstitutionality, writing, quote, “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. 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.” Judge Pitman also accused Texas lawmakers of, quote, “pursuing an unprecedented and aggressive scheme to deprive its citizens of a significant and well-established constitutional right.”

We go now to Boston, where we’re joined by Amy Littlefield, the abortion access correspondent at The Nation. Her recent article on Texas is headlined “This Is What the First Hours of a Near-Total Ban on Abortion Look Like.”

Amy, first, talk about the significance of this judge’s ruling and what it will mean for Texas.

AMY LITTLEFIELD: Well, Judge Robert Pitman, Amy, ruled and said what advocates in Texas and clinic operators in Texas have been saying all along, that Senate Bill 8, which was, in effect, a near-total ban on abortion in the state of Texas, is flagrantly unconstitutional, that the attempt to sort of make an end run around the courts by using civil lawsuits to enforce this law was something that this judge could transparently see through, that this was about banning abortion, which is not allowed under the Constitution as, you know, it’s currently interpreted by the courts.

However, it’s important to note that this is not the final word. And we also don’t know exactly how clinics are going to put this ruling into practice. Senate Bill 8, which bans abortion after embryonic cardiac activity can be detected, which happens at between five and seven weeks of pregnancy, which is one to three weeks after a missed period — clinics, many clinics, most clinics in the state, had provided — continued providing abortions up until cardiac activity. Planned Parenthood of South Texas, for example, actually stopped providing all abortions, because they were afraid of getting sued under this law. So, we don’t know exactly how all of the different abortion providers in Texas are going to move after this ruling.

But I know Whole Woman’s Health, an independent clinic that has been out in front fighting Senate Bill 8 from the beginning, has said they’re going to move as quickly as possible to start resuming abortions, even though the law has this sort of hidden, you know, Russian nesting doll provision that actually allows — even though there’s a preliminary injunction in place, it allows abortion providers and anyone who aids or abets in an abortion to be sued while the preliminary injunction is in place retroactively. In other words, if the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals or the Supreme Court puts this law back into place, anyone who violates it in the meantime, even though it’s on hold, could still face a lawsuit.

And again, for folks who haven’t been following this, this civil lawsuit provision is what is so nefarious and what gave conservative justices cover to allow this law to go into effect. That is, that instead of being enforced by the state of Texas, this law is enforced by private citizens, who can sue anyone who helps someone get an abortion, for $10,000.

AMY GOODMAN: I mean, and just to elaborate on that, for people to understand —

AMY LITTLEFIELD: Right.

AMY GOODMAN: — it could be the taxi driver who brings a person to a women’s health clinic to get an abortion. It could be the anti-abortion activist outside who takes down the license plate, finds out who that is, and sues for $10,000. It could be a person in another state who has nothing to do with this, who sues, for example, as happened, the Texas doctor —

AMY LITTLEFIELD: Exactly.

AMY GOODMAN: — who gave an abortion to a person.

AMY LITTLEFIELD: Yeah, it could be a disbarred attorney in another state under house arrest, who I believe was the first person to sue Dr. Allan Braid when he openly violated the law in Texas. So, yes, I mean, that is the sort of bounty hunter provision of this.

But, I mean, the effect has been a near-total ban, which is a lot less creative and exciting, and much more sort of transparently the goal of anti-abortion forces all along, was to cut off access to abortion in Texas. And we saw this happen in the state previously last year during the pandemic, the sort of height of the pandemic, in March and April of 2020. Governor Greg Abbott tried to ban abortion as a nonessential service. And just like Senate Bill 8, that measure wound its way through the courts. Access flipped off and on eight times. You had clinic staff coming out into the waiting room telling patients who had been sitting there waiting for their procedures, “Sorry, we just heard that the court ruled against us, and you’re going to have to go home, and we’ll call you if we can see you again.” You had this sort of back and forth, back and forth going on. We could see that start to play out again in Texas, because, immediately, this decision in favor of abortion rights has already been appealed to the 5th Circuit, and, of course, the end of the line is the Supreme Court.

And I think one of the most significant things about this Texas law is that the Supreme Court showed their hand. They showed that they are ready to allow a near-total ban on abortion to go into effect in a state where one in 10 women of reproductive age and an untold number of trans and nonbinary people capable of getting pregnant live. And we’ve seen the human rights consequences, the heartbreaking human rights consequences, of that over the past month.

AMY GOODMAN: Finally, Amy, before we go, you wrote this piece in The Nation, “This Is What the First Hours of a Near-Total Ban on Abortion Look Like.” And you talk about a woman named Anna. Can you end by telling us her story?

AMY LITTLEFIELD: So, Amy, one thing I learned when I worked for you is always to try to end on a note of hope. And so, over the weekend, I traveled to Washington, D.C., for the Rally for Abortion Justice. And this was hosted by the Women’s March. The numbers were nowhere near what they were in 2017, you know, during the inauguration of President Trump, when there were half a million people in D.C. and you practically couldn’t move. There were about 20,000 people in D.C. There were another 660 rallies around the country for abortion rights taking place during this Texas emergency. But what I really saw emerge, even though the numbers were relatively small, is I saw a new generation of leaders, who have been shaped by the cruelty of incrementalism, the cruelty of one law after another after another after another in states like Texas.

And I saw a woman named Anna, who’s now 21 years old, speak from the stage. She tried to get access to hormonal contraception in Texas when — the month that she turned 17, but she couldn’t get it, because, you may not know, Texas actually requires parental permission for teenagers to get abortion — to get not just abortion but access to contraception. So she couldn’t get birth control. She was having sex, and a condom broke, and so she went to get emergency contraception. But the store wouldn’t sell it to her, even though, legally, it’s supposed to be available over the counter to people of all ages. And there are protections for anyone who wants to deny someone access to Plan B, you know, under purported religious grounds. And so, Anna couldn’t get access to Plan B. When she tried to fight for her rights in the store, they threatened to call security on her. And by the time she finally got Plan B, she said, “You know what? I think it’s too late.” And she took a pregnancy test every single day. When it turned up pregnant, that she was pregnant, she immediately knew that she had to seek a judicial bypass procedure, because, in Texas, you have to have a parent’s permission to get an abortion if you’re a minor. And because her parents lived overseas, she had to ask a judge for permission. She had to prove that she was a good student, prove that she was mature enough, capable of making a decision about an abortion. And from the stage, I heard her say, “I’m not a baby-making machine. I should get to decide what I want to do.”

And I thought, “This is the generation that has been radicalized, that has been moved, that has been shaped and forged in what one activist called the hell that is Texas right now. And this is the generation that’s rising to power now, that’s going to lead us forward.” And they use terminology and rallying cries that are so different from the 1990s, when Roe was under threat in the Planned Parenthood v. Casey case. They talk about, “You know what? It’s OK to have an abortion after some hot sex just because you don’t want to be pregnant.” That is a far cry from the safe, legal and rare calls that we heard in the ’90s. They talk about pregnant people. They talk about trans and nonbinary folks who have abortion. They are intersectional. They center Black women in their work. And this movement of young people of color, like Anna, is ready to lead, and it was really exciting to see it emerge in D.C.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you, Amy, for being with us. We will link to your piece, “At the March for Abortion Rights, a New Generation of Activists Takes Center Stage,” as well as your piece, “This Is What the First Hours of a Near-Total Ban on Abortion Look Like.” Amy Littlefield is the abortion access correspondent at The Nation and former Democracy Now! producer.

This is Democracy Now! When we come back, the torture cover-up continues. We’ll look at Wednesday’s Supreme Court oral arguments in a case brought by Guantánamo prisoner Abu Zubaydah, who was waterboarded over 80 times at a secret CIA black site. Stay with us.

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Abu Zubaydah Was Tortured for Years at CIA Black Sites. Biden Is Trying to Keep the Abuse Secret.

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