A Texas abortion provider has resumed providing abortions after six weeks gestation, more than a month after a law banning the procedure past that point halted nearly all abortions in the state.
Whole Woman’s Health, which operates four clinics in the state, resumed providing abortions Thursday morning, after U.S. District Court Judge Robert Pitman issued an injunction blocking the Texas law. Founder and CEO Amy Hagstrom Miller said the clinics had already provided several abortions to people whose pregnancies show evidence of fetal cardiac activity.
“Today, with Judge Pitman’s ruling, we are proud to have been part of this case,” Hagstrom Miller said in a press call. “We are proud to do our part to lead the resuming of care in Texas.”
The Texas law forbids abortions after fetal cardiac activity can be detected—or after about six weeks—and allows private citizens to sue anyone found to be providing abortions past that point for a minimum of $10,000. The law all but halted abortions in the state after it was enacted on Sept. 1, and flooded waiting rooms at clinics in surrounding states.
In his Wednesday night ruling, issued in response to a U.S. Department of Justice lawsuit challenging the law, Pitman said the ban “unlawfully prevented [women] from exercising control over their own lives in ways that are protected by the Constitution.”
“This court will not sanction one more day of this offensive deprivation of such an important right,” he wrote.
Texas immediately appealed the ruling to the notoriously conservative Fifth Circuit, leaving providers anxious over how long the reprieve would last. Adding to the concern was a provision in the law that allowed providers to be sued retroactively for abortions provided while the law’s enforcement was suspended, if it was later found constitutional.
A spokesperson for Planned Parenthood, another major abortion provider in the state, said its affiliates were “evaluating” and “waiting on next steps” due to the high potential for back and forth in the courts.
In a statement to The Daily Beast, Texas Right to Life indicated that it planned to sue offending providers if the law was upheld, noting that it contains a four-year statute of limitations.
“The abortion industry is taking a significant risk of future liability by deciding to continue their violent business as usual,” said communications director Kimberlyn Schwartz. “Texas Right to Life intends to ensure the law is fully enforced when this case is settled.”
But Hagstrom Miller said her clinics had weighed the risks and decided to forge ahead with providing abortions while the injunction was in place. For weeks, the clinic had been placing patients past six weeks gestation on a waiting list in case the law was blocked; on Wednesday night, they began calling them in to schedule appointments.
The clinics had seen a dramatic increase in calls and emails following Pitman’s decision, she added.
“There’s actually hope from patients and from staff, and I think there’s a little desperation in that hope,” she said. “Folks know that this opportunity could be short lived.”
Several other challenges to the law are pending, including one filed on behalf of Planned Parenthood, Whole Woman’s Health, and other providers in the state that is expected to be heard by the Fifth Circuit in December. So far, only one provider, Dr. Alan Braid, has been sued for providing an abortion past the legal limit. Both plaintiffs in those cases said they sued not to stop Braid from providing abortions, but to give advocates another opening to challenge the law.
The law has already had a devastating effect on people seeking abortions. One Planned Parenthood in the state went from providing 205 abortions the week before SB8 took effect to only 52 the next, according to the Justice Department. Meanwhile, clinics just outside the state saw double the amount of patients they usually treat, most of whom were from Texas.
Hagstrom Miller admitted that this meant the clinic will face an uphill battle in seeing all the patients denied access over the last six weeks.
“There’s no way you can deny thousands of people … abortions for a whole month and then be able to fit all those folks in over a couple of days,” Hagstrom Miller said. “It’s going to take quite a bit of time for us to care for all the people whose care has been denied this last month.”