Abortion bans have been temporarily blocked in Louisiana and Utah, while a federal court in South Carolina said a law sharply restricting the procedure would take effect there immediately as the battle over whether women may end pregnancies shifted from America’s highest court to courthouses countrywide.
The US Supreme Court’s decision last Friday to end constitutional protection for abortion opened the gates for a wave of litigation.
One side sought quickly to put statewide bans into effect, and the other tried to stop or at least delay such measures.
Much of the initial court activity focused on “trigger laws,” adopted in 13 states that were designed to take effect swiftly upon last week’s ruling.
Additional lawsuits could also target old anti-abortion laws that were left on the books in some states and went unenforced under Roe.
Newer abortion restrictions that were put on hold pending the Supreme Court ruling are also coming back into play.
“We’ll be back in court tomorrow and the next day and the next day,” Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Centre for Reproductive Rights, which argued the case that resulted in the high court ruling, said.
Rulings to put trigger laws on hold came swiftly in Utah and Louisiana on Monday, and a hearing was scheduled for yesterday as Texas clinics seek assurances they can resume services for at least a few more weeks without risking prosecution.
A Utah judge has blocked that state’s near-total abortion ban from going into effect for 14 days, to allow time for the court to hear challenges to the state’s trigger law.
Planned Parenthood had challenged the law, which contains exceptions for rape, incest or the mother’s health, saying the law violates the protection and privacy provisions in the state constitution.
“I think the immediate effects that will occur outweigh any policy interest of the state in stopping abortions,” Utah Judge Andrew Stone said.
In Louisiana, a judge in New Orleans, a liberal city in a conservative state, temporarily blocked enforcement of that state’s trigger-law ban on abortion, after abortion rights activists argued that it is unclear. The ruling is in effect pending a July 8 hearing.
At least one of the state’s three abortion clinics said it would resume performing procedures on Tuesday.
“We’re going to do what we can,” said Kathaleen Pittman, administrator of Hope Medical Group for Women, in Shreveport. “It could all come to a screeching halt.”
Louisiana attorney general Jeff Landry, a Republican and staunch abortion opponent, vowed to fight the judge’s ruling and enforce the law.
“We would remind everyone that the laws that are now in place were enacted by the people through state constitutional amendments and the LA legislature,” Mr Landry tweeted.
In South Carolina, a federal court lifted its prior hold on an abortion restriction there, allowing the state to ban abortions after an ultrasound detects a heartbeat, usually around six weeks into a pregnancy, before many women know they are pregnant.
There are exceptions if the woman’s life is in danger, or if the pregnancy is the result of rape or incest. Planned Parenthood said after the ruling that it will continue to perform abortions at its South Carolina clinics within the parameters of the new law.
Also on Monday, abortion rights advocates asked a Florida judge to block a new law there that bans the procedure after 15 weeks with some exceptions to save a mother’s life or if the foetus has a fatal abnormality, but no exceptions for rape, incest or trafficking.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Florida argued that the law violates the Florida Constitution and a ruling on that is expected tomorrow – a day before the law is scheduled to take effect.
Abortion rights activists also went to court on Monday to try to fend off restrictions in Texas, Idaho, Kentucky and Mississippi, the state at the centre of the Supreme Court ruling, while the ACLU of Arizona filed an emergency motion there seeking to block a 2021 law they worry could be used to halt all abortions.
In Friday’s ruling, the Supreme Court left it to the states to decide whether to allow abortion.