A US federal appeals court ruled Friday that Texas could resume its ban on most abortions, two days after another court suspended the ban.
The decision by the New Orleans-based Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals temporarily set aside Wednesday’s ruling, effectively reinstating a ban on most abortions once a foetal heartbeat is detected, usually around six weeks.
On Wednesday evening, US district judge Robert Pitman had issued a preliminary injunction halting enforcement of the Texas law.
In a blistering opinion, Pitman called the Texas law “flagrantly unconstitutional,” saying it violated the landmark 1973 Supreme Court ruling in Roe v Wade, which enshrined a woman’s legal right to an abortion.
Texas Attorney-General Ken Paxton, a Republican, quickly appealed that decision and the appeal was granted Friday evening.
“Great news tonight,” Paxton tweeted shortly after the ruling. “I will fight federal overreach at every turn.”
Laws restricting abortion have been passed in other Republican-led states but were struck down by the courts because they violated Roe v Wade.
The decision came as some clinics in Texas had resumed providing abortions for the first time since the law came into effect in September.
The “Texas Heartbeat Act” allows members of the public to sue doctors who perform abortions once a foetal heartbeat is detected, or anyone who helps facilitate the procedure.
They can be rewarded with US$10,000 for initiating cases that lead to prosecution, prompting charges that the law encourages people to act as vigilantes.
The law makes no exception for victims of rape or incest.
Part of a broader conservative drive to restrict abortions across the US, the law has prompted a public backlash.
Tens of thousands of women took to the streets in cities across the country last weekend, asserting their reproductive rights.
Advocates of a woman’s right to terminate a pregnancy have called on Congress to enshrine the right to abortion in federal law to protect it from any possible reversal by the Supreme Court.
A bill to that effect was adopted two weeks ago in the Democratic majority House of Representatives, but has no chance of passing the Senate where Republicans have enough votes to block it.
If the high court were to overturn Roe v Wade, every state would be free to ban or allow abortions.
That would mean 36 million women in 26 states – nearly half of American women of reproductive age – would likely lose the legal right to an abortion, according to a Planned Parenthood report.