A Harris County judge granted a temporary restraining order June 28, allowing some Texas clinics to provide abortions for the next two weeks. The restraining order blocks a 1925 abortion ban that was in place before Roe v. Wade was passed in 1973.
Many Texas clinics paused abortion services after Roe was overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court on June 24 due to uncertainty and the risk of prosecution by state officials. Following the reversal of Roe on June 24, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said in an advisory that prosecutors could “choose to immediately pursue criminal prosecutions based on violations of Texas abortion prohibitions predating Roe that were never repealed by the Texas Legislature.”
But District Judge Christine Weems ruled Texas’ pre-Roe ban was previously repealed and cannot be enforced. The temporary restraining order, according to the court, preserves “patients’ legal right to obtain, and plaintiffs’ and their physicians’ legal right to provide, abortions in Texas until the trigger ban is in effect.”
After the temporary restraining order was filed, Paxton wrote on Twitter that he was “immediately appealing” the judge’s decision and would make sure Texans had “all the legal tools” for a "pro-life" Texas.
“[With] SCOTUS’s Dobbs decision, these laws are 100% in effect & constitutional,” Paxton said. “The judge’s decision is wrong.”
Today a Harris County judge froze pre-Roe laws criminalizing abortion in TX. But w/ SCOTUS’s Dobbs decision, these laws are 100% in effect & constitutional. The judge’s decision is wrong. I’m immediately appealing. I’ll ensure we have all the legal tools to keep TX pro-life!
— Attorney General Ken Paxton (@KenPaxtonTX) June 28, 2022
A second hearing is set for July 12, when Weems will determine whether to issue a longer-term injunction. The temporary restraining order will last for 14 days and expire at 5 p.m. July 12.
The restraining order follows a lawsuit filed by several Texas abortion providers June 27. The suit argues previous abortion bans were automatically repealed when Roe v. Wade was passed. Therefore, the providers argue, criminal penalties cannot be enforced until the Texas trigger law takes effect.
Texas is one of at least 13 states with a trigger law, which will ban and criminalize abortions 30 days after the Supreme Court issues its final judgment on the June 24 ruling, Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization. Experts estimated the Supreme Court to issue the judgment roughly one month after the original ruling.
Until then, certain abortion providers are free to administer abortions before a fetal heart is detected, or at about six weeks of pregnancy. Marc Hearron, senior legal counsel for the Center for Reproductive Rights, called the court’s decision “a relief.”
“This decision will allow abortion services to resume at many clinics across the state, connecting Texans to the essential health care they need,” Hearron said. “Every hour that abortion is accessible in Texas is a victory.”
But the order does not impact all abortion clinics in Texas. It applies only to the organizations that sued the state: Whole Woman’s Health, Whole Woman’s Health Alliance, Alamo City Surgery Center, Brookside Women’s Medical Center, Austin Women’s Health Center, Houston Women’s Clinic, Houston Women’s Reproductive Services and Southwestern Women’s Surgery Center.
Hearron told reporters he could not speak to whether other clinics could file their own lawsuits or intervene in the case.
Amy O’Donnell, the communications director for the anti-abortion organization Texas Alliance for Life, said the organization believes a higher court will soon vacate — or dismiss — the restraining order. In that case, the pre-Roe abortion bans would stand.
O’Donnell said the organization aims to protect life beginning at conception through a variety of Texas programs, which are “there for any woman who is pregnant who would like support in our state.”
These include the Alternatives to Abortion program and the Healthy Texas Women program. In addition, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott signed House Bill 133 in 2021, extending Medicaid coverage for at least six months after delivery or a miscarriage for pregnant Texans.
Following the issuance of the restraining order, Amy Hagstrom Miller, Whole Women’s Health president and CEO, said in a statement that the organization’s four Texas clinics will reopen to resume abortion care as soon as possible.
“Keep in mind, Texas still enforces a two-visit requirement and a 24-hour waiting period, as well as the 6-week ban and other restrictions,” Miller said. “Even with these obstacles, our clinic staff are ready and eager to welcome patients back.”
We are already contacting patients on our waiting lists and working on resuming abortion services in all our 4 Texas clinics as quickly as possible.
— Whole Woman's Health (@WholeWomans) June 28, 2022