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Texas Supreme Court blocks order that resumed abortions

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Protesters march while holding signs during an abortion-rights rally on June 25, 2022 in Austin, Texas.

Sergio Flores | Getty Images News | Getty Images

The Texas Supreme Court blocked a lower court order late Friday night that said clinics could proceed performing abortions, just days after some doctors had resumed seeing patients after the autumn of Roe v. Wade.

It was not immediately clear whether Texas clinics that had resumed seeing patients this week would halt services again. A hearing is scheduled for later this month.

The whiplash of Texas clinics turning away patients, rescheduling them, and now potentially canceling appointments again — all within the span of every week — illustrated the confusion and scrambling happening across the country since Roe was overturned.

An order by a Houston judge earlier this week had reassured some clinics they might temporarily resume abortions as much as six weeks into pregnancy. That was quickly followed by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton asking the state’s highest court, which is stocked with nine Republican justices, to temporarily put the order on hold.

“These laws are confusing, unnecessary, and cruel,” said Marc Hearron, attorney for the Center for Reproductive Rights, after the order was issued Friday night.

Clinics in Texas had stopped performing abortions within the state of nearly 30 million people after the U.S. Supreme Court last week overturned Roe v. Wade and ended the constitutional right to abortion. Texas had technically left an abortion ban on the books for the past 50 years while Roe was in place.

A duplicate of Friday’s order was provided by attorneys for Texas clinics. It couldn’t immediately be found on the court’s website.

Abortion providers and patients across the country have been struggling to navigate the evolving legal landscape around abortion laws and access.

In Florida, a law banning abortions after 15 weeks went into effect Friday, the day after a judge called it a violation of the state structure and said he would sign an order temporarily blocking the law next week. The ban could have broader implications within the South, where Florida has wider access to the procedure than its neighbors.

Abortion rights have been lost and regained within the span of just a few days in Kentucky. A so-called trigger law imposing a near-total ban on the procedure took effect last Friday, but a judge blocked the law Thursday, meaning the state’s only two abortion providers can resume seeing patients — for now.

The legal wrangling is nearly certain to proceed to cause chaos for Americans in search of abortions within the near future, with court rulings capable of upend access at a moment’s notice and an influx of latest patients from out of state overwhelming providers.

Even when women travel outside states with abortion bans in place, they could have fewer options to finish their pregnancies because the prospect of prosecution follows them.

Planned Parenthood of Montana this week stopped providing medication abortions to patients who live in states with bans “to reduce potential risk for providers, sanatorium staff, and patients within the face of a rapidly changing landscape.”

Planned Parenthood North Central States, which offers the procedure in Minnesota, Iowa and Nebraska, is telling its patients that they need to take each pills within the regimen in a state that enables abortions.

The usage of abortion pills has been probably the most common method to finish a pregnancy since 2000, when the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved mifepristone — the fundamental drug utilized in medication abortions. Taken with misoprostol, a drug that causes cramping that empties the womb, it constitutes the abortion pill.

Abortion rights activists, including actor Busy Phillips, march past United States Supreme Court to protest the court’s ruling to overturn the landmark Roe v Wade abortion decision, in Washington, June 30, 2022.

Evelyn Hockstein | Reuters

“There’s a number of confusion and concern that the providers could also be in danger, and so they try to limit their liability so that they can provide care to individuals who need it,” said Dr. Daniel Grossman, who directs the research group Advancing Latest Standards in Reproductive Health on the University of California San Francisco.

Emily Bisek, a spokeswoman for Planned Parenthood North Central States, said that in an “unknown and murky” legal environment, they decided to inform patients they need to be in a state where it’s legal to finish the medication abortion — which requires taking two drugs 24 to 48 hours apart. She said most patients from states with bans are expected to go for surgical abortions.

Access to the pills has turn out to be a key battle in abortion rights, with the Biden administration preparing to argue states can’t ban a medicine that has received FDA approval.

Kim Floren, who operates an abortion fund in South Dakota called Justice Empowerment Network, said the event would further limit women’s selections.

“The aim of those laws in any case is to scare people,” Floren said of states’ bans on abortions and telemedicine consultations for medication abortions. “The logistics to truly enforcing these is a nightmare, but they depend on the undeniable fact that persons are going to be scared.”

A South Dakota law took effect Friday that threatens a felony punishment for anyone who prescribes medication for an abortion and not using a license from the South Dakota Board of Medical and Osteopathic Examiners.

In Alabama, Attorney General Steve Marshall’s office said it’s reviewing whether people or groups could face prosecution for helping women fund and travel to out-of-state abortion appointments.

Yellowhammer Fund, an Alabama-based group that helps low-income women cover abortion and travel costs, said it’s pausing operation for 2 weeks due to lack of clarity under state law.

“That is a short lived pause, and we’re going to work out how we will legally get you money and resources and what that appears like,” said Kelsea McLain, Yellowhammer’s health care access director.

Laura Goodhue, executive director of the Florida Alliance of Planned Parenthood Affiliates, said staff members at its clinics have seen women driving from so far as Texas without stopping — or making an appointment. Women who’re past 15 weeks were being asked to depart their information and promised a call back if a judge signs the order temporarily blocking the restriction, she said.

Still, there’s concern that the order could also be only temporary and the law may again go into effect later, creating additional confusion.

“It’s terrible for patients,” she said. “We’re really nervous about what’s going to occur.”

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