Heartbeat bill sparks legal fight

Fifth Circuit reinstates Texas ban, DOJ asks to halt ban while case is appealed

By Morgan Miles, Staff Writer

After being temporarily lifted for two days, Texas’ near-total abortion ban was reinstated on Friday by the Fifth Circuit of Appeals. Responding on Monday, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) asked the Fifth Circuit to halt the abortion ban while the case is appealed.

The Fifth Circuit issued an administrative stay on the Oct. 6 ruling that halted Texas Senate Bill Eight. This administrative stay blocks U.S. District Judge Robert Pitman’s injunction, which argued that S.B. 8 was an unconstitutional limit on abortion.

The DOJ responded Monday by arguing that allowing the ban to continue while its suit challenging the law was appealed would be harmful for U.S. interests. 

The Fifth Circuit will determine whether the law can stay in effect while it considers Texas’s appeal of Pitman’s injunction.

“(The ban represents) substantial harm to the United States’ sovereign interests and would disserve the public interest,” the DOJ said.

In a 113-page ruling siding with the Biden administration published Oct. 6, Pitman prevented the state from continuing the enforcement of the restrictive abortion laws. He also required posting the ban of S.B. 8 online in an understandable, accessible format.

“From the moment S.B. 8 went into effect, women have been unlawfully prevented from exercising control over their own lives in ways that are protected by the Constitution,” Pitman wrote in his opinion.

Beginning Sept. 1, S.B. 8 forced a ban in Texas on any abortions past six weeks — when a fetus’s heart starts beating. The bill does not include exceptions for rape or incest. 

Photos courtesy of flickr.com
Texas’ 6-week abortion ban was reinstated after being lifted for two days by the 5th Circuit of Appeals via an administrative stay. The DOJ then asked the 5th circuit to stop abortions in Texas while the case is appealed.

A dozen Republican-led states have passed heartbeat bills like Texas’s, but judges have blocked them. 

Unlike laws in other states, Texas’s law allows private citizens to enforce the law rather than prosecutors. Violators can be sued by private citizens who can earn up to $10,000 in damages for each successful civil suit.

Assuming Texas would react quickly to Pitman’s injunction, many doctors stopped offering abortion procedures out of fear of litigation. 

Now, violators can be held liable to litigation even for abortions carried out during the two-day lifting of the ban.

The number of patients at clinics offering abortions has decreased by 80% since September. States surrounding Texas are beginning to accommodate the influx of abortion-seekers.

Brian Netter, a DOJ attorney, spoke before a federal court in support of abortion providers and clinics. 

“A state may not ban abortions at six weeks. The state resorted to an unprecedented scheme of vigilante justice that was designed to scare abortion providers and others who might help women exercise their constitutional rights,” he said.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, who requested that the Fifth Circuit temporarily suspend Pitman’s injunction, argued that Pitman overstepped because the abortions laws were enforced by private citizens rather than state government officials. 

“(The order) places state courts and their employees under imminent threat of contempt based on the actions of third parties that they cannot control,” Paxton said.

Student perspectives of the situation in Texas vary.

Laney Konz, a first-year English major, criticized Texas’s ban.

“Although I myself may not opt for an abortion, I have no say over another person’s body,” she said.

Faith Krajna, a sophmore Philosophy, Politics and the Public and economics double major, argued in favor of Texas’s ban. 

“I understand that government should be free from religious connotations, but in the end, life is life,” she said.