On Wednesday, a federal judge temporarily blocked the ban on abortion in Texas after six weeks of pregnancy, following a challenge from President Joe Biden's administration after the US Supreme Court let it proceed.
The action by US District Judge Robert Pitman in Austin prevents the state from enforcing the Republican-backed law, which prohibits women from obtaining an abortion after six weeks of pregnancy, while litigation over its legality continues.
The case is part of a fierce legal battle over abortion access in the United States, with numerous states pursuing restrictions.
"This Court will not sanction one more day of this offensive deprivation of such an important right," Pitman said in the ruling.
The ink was barely dry on Pitman's order before Texas notified the court that it intends to appeal the ruling to the conservative-leaning Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, setting the stage for the next phase of the legal battle.
"Tonight's ruling is an important step forward toward restoring the constitutional rights of women across the state of Texas," White House press secretary Jen Psaki said in statement late Wednesday. "The fight has only just begun, both in Texas and in many states across this country where women’s rights are currently under attack," she added.
Biden's Justice Department sued Texas on 9th September and sought a temporary injunction against the law, arguing that the measure violates the US Constitution.
At six weeks of pregnancy, many women do not yet know they are pregnant. The law makes no exceptions for pregnancies caused by rape or incest. It also lets ordinary citizens enforce the ban, rewarding them at least $10,000 if they successfully sue anyone who helped provide an abortion after foetal cardiac activity is detected. Critics of the law have said this provision enables people to act as anti-abortion bounty hunters.
The Justice Department argued that the law impedes women from exercising their constitutional right to terminate a pregnancy that was recognised in the Supreme Court's 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that legalised abortion nationwide. The department also argued that the law improperly interferes with the operations of the federal government to provide abortion-related services.
Texas Governor Greg Abbott, a Republican, has defended the legality of the state's abortion law, saying in a statement: "The most precious freedom is life itself."
Pitman heard about three hours of arguments on the Justice Department's request. Justice Department attorney Brian Netter called the law an "unprecedented scheme of vigilante justice" that must be struck down.
US conservatives have long sought to have Roe v. Wade overturned. On 1st December, the Supreme Court will hear arguments in a separate case involving a Mississippi law that bans abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy. Mississippi has asked the high court to overturn the 1973 precedent.