A Texas judge ruled Friday that the state’s abortion ban is overly restrictive for women with major pregnancy challenges and that exceptions must be made without doctors fearing criminal charges.
The verdict was the first to strike down Texas’ law since it went into force in 2022, and it represents a significant victory for abortion rights advocates, who see the case as a potential pattern for weakening restrictions elsewhere that Republican-led states have hurried to enact.
The injunction, however, was promptly blocked by an appeal to the Texas Supreme Court, according to the state attorney general’s office.
”The trial court’s injunction is ineffective, and the status quo remains in effect,” spokesperson Paige Willey said in an email.
The verdict by State District Judge Jessica Mangrum ordered a temporary injunction preventing Texas from implementing the law against physicians who, in their “good faith judgement,” stop a pregnancy that, due to problems, poses a danger of infection or is otherwise unhealthy for the woman to continue.
The order also applies to women who have an illness “exacerbated by pregnancy” that cannot be treated adequately throughout their pregnancy. It also covers circumstances where the foetus has a defect that makes survival after birth unlikely.
“For the first time in a long time, I cried for joy when I heard the news,” lead plaintiff Amanda Zurawski said in a statement. “This is exactly why we did this. This is why we put ourselves through the pain and the trauma over and over again to share our experiences and the harms caused by these awful laws.”
According to Mangrum’s decision, the injunction will remain in effect until the matter is resolved, which is set for trial on March 25.
The state’s instant appeal, however, “stays an activist Austin judge’s attempt to override Texas abortion laws pending a ruling by the Texas Supreme Court,” said First Assistant Attorney General Brent Webster in a statement.
In a state where all abortion clinics have closed in the last year, the immediate consequence of Mangrum’s decision was also unclear.
The challenge to the state statute is believed to be the first in the United States brought by women denied abortions since the Supreme Court overruled Roe v. Wade last year, which had affirmed the constitutional right to abortion for nearly 50 years.
The judge determined that elements of the abortion law violated the rights granted to pregnant individuals under the Texas Constitution in a six-page ruling.
The patients who challenged the statute each had “emergent medical conditions” throughout their pregnancy that jeopardised their health or lives and necessitated abortion care, according to the court.
The court stated that patients were delayed or refused access to such care due to widespread confusion regarding the impact on providers.
“Today’s decision should prevent other Texans from going through the unimaginable trauma that our plaintiffs went through,” said Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Centre for Reproductive Rights, which assisted in bringing the complaint.
Women recounted harrowing experiences of finding their kids would not survive birth and being unable to travel vast distances to states where abortion is still legal during two days of dramatic testimony in an Austin courtroom.
The lawsuit, filed in March, does not seek to invalidate Texas’ abortion ban, but rather to clarify when exceptions are permitted under the statute, which is one of the most stringent in the country.
Doctors who perform abortions in Texas face life in prison and fines of up to $100,000. Opponents claim that this has left some women with clinicians who are unwilling to even discuss abortion.
According to a study issued in late June by The Associated Press-NORC Centre for Public Affairs Research, the majority of U.S. adults, including those living in states with the harshest abortion restrictions, want abortion to be allowed at least until the first stages of pregnancy.