Updated 4:40 p.m. CT
A Travis County Judge granted three Texas Planned Parenthood affiliates a temporary restraining order against Texas Right To Life Friday evening, blocking the anti-abortion rights group from suing them under the state’s new restrictive abortion law.
In her ruling, Judge Guerra Gamble said the order was given to maintain the status quo while the courts determine if the law is valid.
“It is clear to me that there is a great deal of harm that could come from not granting the TRO,” said Gamble.
A temporary injunction hearing is scheduled for the morning of Sept. 13.
Senate Bill 8, which took effect Wednesday, allows private citizens to sue anyone who performs or helps someone get an abortion after cardiac activity is detected in an embryo. If successful, the plaintiff could be awarded $10,000 or more.
Anti-abortion groups have praised the new law, and Texas Right To Life has already committed to help people enforce the ban. The organization has set up a website for individuals to anonymously report anyone suspected of violating SB 8.
The suit asks a Travis County judge to prevent Texas Right To Life from suing while the law is being challenged in the courts. In a statement, Planned Parenthood said SB 8 could leave millions of Texans without access to abortion while leaving providers and their employees open to “malicious” litigation.
“Anti-abortion activists are already staking out our health centers, surveilling our providers, and threatening our patients,” said Helene Krasnoff, vice president for public policy litigation and law, Planned Parenthood Federation of America. “The physicians, nurses, and clinic staff at Planned Parenthood health centers in Texas — and at abortion providers statewide — deserve to come to work without fear of harassment or frivolous lawsuits.”
The Planned Parenthood affiliates asked a Texas district court for a temporary restraining order one day after the U.S. Supreme Court declined to block the law from going into effect. In a 5-4 vote, the conservative justices on the court found that providers didn't address "complex and novel antecedent procedural questions,” though they added it was not weighing in on the constitutionality of the law. Chief Justice John Roberts and the court's three liberal justices dissented.
The new law bans abortions as early as six weeks, before most people know they’re pregnant. Abortion providers have called it a de facto abortion ban in violation of Roe v. Wade.
"Unfortunately for people who discover they are pregnant and cardiac activity exists, the options that they have now under this law are limited," Melaney Linton, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast, told Houston Matters on Thursday. "We have to either help them navigate away to get out of state and get to another provider or they will have to contemplate continuing the pregnancy."
Linton added that Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast will continue to provide abortions that comply with SB 8 despite the newly added restrictions. Planned Parenthood South Texas, one of the affiliates in the suit, stopped providing abortions when the new law went into effect.
Despite the Supreme Court’s decision not to block the law, legal experts have raised questions about SB 8's constitutionality.
"A right to choose to have an abortion without undue interference from the state before viability — that is, before a fetus can live outside of the womb — is a liberty protected by the due process clause under current Supreme Court doctrine," said Charles Rhodes, professor of law at South Texas College of Law Houston.
A spokesperson with Texas Right To Life could not immediately provide comment Friday morning, but John Seago, the legislative director of Texas Right to Life, told Houston Matters he viewed the new legislation as a triumph for anti-abortion rights activists.
“This is the most significant victory for the pro-life movement in Texas since Roe v. Wade,” Seago said. “We have a prohibition that's being enforced this morning on 85% of the elective abortions in Texas. That is a categorical win for our movement.”
Additional reporting by Lucio Vasquez.