Court says it 'will not sanction one more day of this offensive deprivation of such an important right'
A US federal judge on Wednesday temporarily blocked a law that bans most abortions in Texas as part of a conservative drive to deny access to the procedure.
The statute, which went into force on September 1, prohibits abortions as soon as a heartbeat is detectable, usually at around six weeks of pregnancy, before many women know they are pregnant. There are no exceptions for cases of incest or rape.
US District Judge Robert Pitman in Austin granted the request from US President Joe Biden's administration to block enforcement of the law pending further litigation, on grounds it violated the US constitution. Texas can appeal.
In his 113-page ruling, Pitman said Texas officials had created an "unprecedented and aggressive scheme to deprive its citizens of a significant and well-established constitutional right."
"From the moment SB 8 went into effect, women have been unlawfully prevented from exercising control over their lives in ways that are protected by the Constitution," Pitman said, using the abbreviation for Senate Bill 8, the law's official name.
"This Court will not sanction one more day of this offensive deprivation of such an important right."
The Texas law, which thus far is the most restrictive in the country, is unique in that it empowers anyone to file a lawsuit against a person who has assisted in an abortion. They can be rewarded with $10,000 for cases that lead to prosecution, prompting charges that the law encourages Texans to act as vigilantes.
As Texas can still appeal Pitman's order, the case may end up in front of the Supreme Court.