In a major blow to anti-abortion activists, a federal judge overturned Texas' ban on a commonly used abortion method Wednesday, saying it placed an "undue burden" on women seeking abortions in their second trimester. Wednesday's ruling reportedly represents the third time a federal judge has tossed out an abortion regulation passed by the state this year.
"Words are important," Austin-based U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel said in his ruling. "That a woman may make the decision to have an abortion before a fetus may survive outside her womb is solely and exclusively the woman's decision." Judge Yeakel went on to argue that the law "intervenes in the medical process of abortion prior to viability in an unduly burdensome manner."
Earlier this year, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott signed Senate Bill 8 into law, effectively moving to ban a second trimester abortion procedure known as dilation and evacuation, or D&E. According to the American Medical Association, D&E procedures — where a physician uses surgical tools to remove the fetus from the womb — are the safest and most common way for pregnancies to be terminated after 14 weeks of gestation. According to abortion providers, alternatives to D&E procedures are generally more risky and more expensive. Yet despite having been deemed one of the safest methods of abortion by medical professional, anti-abortion activists, including those in Texas, often refer to D&E procedures as "fetal dismemberment.
But Texas' Senate Bill 8 wasn't passed without a fight. Reproductive rights organizations like Whole Women's Health, Planned Parenthood, and the Center for Reproductive Rights promptly challenged the law after it was signed. They argued a ban on D&E procedures not only seeks to undermine a woman's constitutional right to an abortion but also compromises their health and safety by forcing them to undergo "unnecessary, invasive, and potentially painful medical procedures."
Yeakel's ruling Wednesday followed a temporary two-week injunction he'd issued in August just before the ban was set to go into effect. On Wednesday, Yeakel extended his original injunction indefinitely, noting the law impacted the constitutional rights of women seeking an abortion in the second trimester of their pregnancy.
"The court concludes the Act is an inappropriate use of the State's regulatory power over the medical profession to bar certain medical procedures and substitute others in furtherance of the State's legitimate interest in regulating the medical profession in order to promote respect for the life of the unborn," Judge Yeakel wrote in his ruling. "The State's valid interest in promoting respect for the life of the unborn, although legitimate, is not sufficient to justify such a substantial obstacle to the constitutionally protected right of a woman to terminate a pregnancy before fetal viability."
However, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton has already announced plans to appeal Judge Yeakel's ruling. "During a five-day trial this month in district court, we created a record unlike any other in exposing the horrors of dismemberment abortions," Paxton said in a statement released Wednesday shortly after the ruling. "No just society should tolerate the tearing of living human beings to pieces."
Paxton went on to claim the state had proved the lawfulness of Senate Bill 8 through "extraordinary evidence and expert witness testimony" and that the law still allowed for second-trimester abortion procedures. "We will defend Senate Bill 8 all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, if necessary," Paxton said.
Judge Yeakel isn't the first federal judge to block or overturn similar abortion regulations. According to NPR, regulations similar to Texas' Senate Bill 8 have also been overturned by federal judges in Alabama, Arkansas, Kansas, and Oklahoma while a legal challenge is still pending in Louisiana.