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With more than a dozen lawsuits challenging Texas’ near-total abortion ban stalled in state court, Planned Parenthood has asked the all-Republican Texas Supreme Court to step in and allow the cases to proceed.
Last week, the Texas Multidistrict Litigation Panel, which is made up of five judges, indefinitely paused 14 lawsuits filed in Travis County district court at the request of Texas Right to Life, a prominent anti-abortion organization that helped draft Texas’ abortion restriction. The panel of judges typically steps in to take action on a group of similar cases. The judges didn’t list a reason for the stay, and said the cases will remain paused until the panel makes another order.
One of the suits was filed by Planned Parenthood. It asked the court to declare the abortion law, which bans the procedure as early as six weeks into a pregnancy, unconstitutional. A hearing was scheduled for Oct. 8, the organization said, before the panel of judges paused proceedings.
In that case, the court temporarily blocked Texas Right to Life from being able to sue Planned Parenthood for potential violations of the abortion law.
“Texas Right to Life championed this blatantly unconstitutional law, but now it is doing everything it can to prevent those challenging S.B. 8 from having their day in court because TRTL knows it will lose,” Helene Krasnoff, vice president for public policy litigation and law at Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said in a statement. “We’re urging the Texas Supreme Court to step in and move this critical case along so we can restore access to abortion across the state.”
Texas Right To Life has not yet filed a response to Planned Parenthood’s emergency request to the Texas Supreme Court.
“Planned Parenthood's effort is a perverse attack on Texas Right to Life’s First Amendment rights,” a spokesperson for the organization said in a statement. “This ultimately is a campaign to block activists from enforcing the Pro-Life law.”
Texas’ abortion law has been in effect for nearly a month, even as abortion providers, doctors, women’s rights groups and the U.S. government have sought to block its enforcement. The statute bars abortions after approximately six weeks of pregnancy, a period before many know they’re pregnant. Meanwhile, most abortions in the state — experts estimate more than 85% — have ceased and some abortion clinics have stopped offering the procedure altogether.
The law’s unique structure makes it difficult to block in court. Despite abortion remaining a constitutional right under Supreme Court precedent, Texas was able to skirt precedent by offloading the enforcement of the statute from government and law officials to private citizens.
The Biden administration will argue against the law’s constitutionality in a federal court hearing Friday in a U.S. District Court.
Disclosure: Planned Parenthood has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune's journalism. Find a complete list of them here.
The 2021 Texas Tribune Festival, the weeklong celebration of politics and policy featuring big names and bold ideas, wrapped on Sept. 25, but there’s still time to tune in. Explore dozens of free, on-demand events before midnight Thursday, Sept. 30, at tribfest.org.