In states across the country, harsh new abortion laws that were scheduled to take effect this week have gotten last-minute reprieves from the courts — serving as a reminder that reproductive rights are largely at the mercy of individual judges.
The beginning of July is typically a significant time for abortion policy because it’s when many of the state-level restrictions passed at the beginning of the year officially take effect. July is about halfway through the calendar year and the start of many states’ fiscal years.
But this summer, multiple lawsuits have helped prevent several extreme abortion laws from immediately taking effect:
TEXAS: In the most high-profile battle over a new abortion law, the Supreme Court decided on Monday to temporarily block Texas’ sweeping abortion clinic restrictions while a legal challenge proceeds against them. The decision ensures that half of the state’s remaining 19 clinics will not be forced to close, and some of the clinics that have already been shuttered may even be able to reopen. It’s possible that these clinics could be safe for up to a year, since a potential Supreme Court case on Texas’ abortion law likely won’t be decided until next summer.
KANSAS: This year, Kansas became the first state in the nation to ban a specific type of second-trimester abortion procedure — known as Dilation and Evacuation, or “D&E” — after abortion opponents successfully depicted it as the “dismemberment” of an unborn child. A father-daughter team of certified OB-GYNs quickly sued, arguing that banning the best form of second-trimester abortion would prevent patients from receiving the safest care. Less than a week before the ban was set to take effect, a Kansas judge temporarily blocked it; the reproductive rights group that filed the lawsuit on behalf of the OB-GYNs said they were “extremely relieved.”
ARIZONA: Also earning the dubious distinction of passing a first-of-its-kind abortion law this year, Arizona sought to require doctors to tell their patients about an unproven theory that medication abortions can be “reversed.” There’s no credible scientific evidence to back up the notion of “abortion pill reversal.” So several doctors in the state sued on First Amendment grounds, arguing that the law would force them to lie to patients. Earlier this month, the state attorney general announced that he won’t enforce the new law — which was scheduled to take effect on July 3 — before a federal judge rules on that lawsuit.
TENNESSEE: After Tennessee voters approved a 2014 ballot initiative that gives their lawmakers more power to pass additional restrictions on abortion, the legislature wasted no time. The state approved several new anti-abortion laws this session, including a 48-hour waiting period and strict restrictions on clinics similar to the controversial law in Texas. This week, however, a U.S. District Court Judge temporarily blocked the clinic regulations from taking effect on July 1, ensuring that two clinics in the state will not be forced to close. The 48-hour wait, however, wasn’t blocked and is now in effect this week.
FLORIDA: A complicated legal battle in Florida on Tuesday almost prevented residents there from being subject to a new 24-hour waiting period scheduled to take effect this week. Initially, a U.S. County Circuit Judge issued a temporary injunction to prevent the wait from being enforced on July 1. But the state’s attorney general immediately appealed the injunction — a move that stayed the judge’s order and allowed the law to take effect on Wednesday. The ACLU, which brought the case, has asked the judge to lift the stay and expects that the law could be blocked again within the next couple days.