A district judge in Texas has issued a temporary restraining order against Texas Right to Life, blocking the anti-abortion group from suing abortion providers employed by Planned Parenthood under the state’s strict new abortion law, according to a copy of the order provided by Planned Parenthood.
The law, which took effect this week, bans abortions after as early as six weeks into pregnancy and allows private citizens to bring civil suits against anyone who assists a pregnant person seeking an abortion in violation of the law. It is among the strictest in the nation and bars abortions just after a fetal heartbeat is detected, which is often before a woman knows that she is pregnant.
Judge Maya Guerra Gamble in Travis County ruled that the medical providers faced “probable, irreparable, and imminent injury” if they were sued by the private group in connection with abortions as early as six weeks into pregnancy, as provided for under the law.
Planned Parenthood health facilities in Texas had filed the lawsuit in Travis County District Court on Thursday night, contending, “At every turn, S.B. 8 purports to replace normal civil-litigation rules and clearly established constitutional rules with distorted versions designed to maximize the harassing nature of the lawsuits and to make them impossible to fairly defend against.”
Helene Krasnoff, vice president of public policy litigation and law at Planned Parenthood Federation of America, praised the order on Friday, saying in a statement, “We are relieved that the Travis County district court has acted quickly to grant this restraining order against Texas Right to Life and anyone working with them as deputized enforcers of this draconian law.”
The law allows any person — as long as they’re not a government official — to bring a civil lawsuit in state court against a provider accused of violating the new law, regardless of whether the person bringing the lawsuit has any connection to the abortion being sought. If they prevail, they are entitled to at least $10,000 in damages, and the law is structured to make it especially costly for clinics that are targeted with an enforcement action. It prohibits clinics from recouping attorneys’ fees from their court foes, even if judges side with the providers in the lawsuits. The measure also prevents clinics from seeking to transfer the cases to venues more convenient for them, unless they have the agreement of their opponents.
The law was designed to make it much more difficult to bring a preenforcement challenge because there are not the usual government officials to hold accountable in court.
While the cases already winding through the federal courts have focused on government officials, the new suit’s principal defendant is the organization Texas Right to Life, which garnered attention by creating a website allowing people to post tips about possible illegal abortions taking place in the state.
Gamble said the temporary restraining order applies not only to Texas Right to Life, but also to “any and all parties and persons in active concert and participation with them.” A preliminary hearing in the case is scheduled for September 13.
Texas Right to Life director Elizabeth Graham said in a statement following the judge’s order that “this lawsuit will not stop the work of Texas Right to Life.”
“Planned Parenthood can keep suing us, but Texas Right to Life will never back down from protecting pregnant women and preborn children from abortion,” Graham said.
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