President Joe Biden’s Justice Department hit a roadblock in its attempt to block the Pro-life Texas Heartbeat Act. In a lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas, Judge Robert Pitman ruled that the federal government may not block enforcement of the act while the parties prepare for the trial in the case. Pitman was appointed to the federal bench in 2014 by President Obama.
The Texas law went into effect on September 1 and made most abortions illegal if a fetal heartbeat is medically detected, which usually occurs around the sixth week of pregnancy. The law provides for enforcement through civil lawsuits brought by private citizens rather than by agents or officials of the government.
This new and unique method of enforcement likely resulted in the decision by the U.S. Supreme Court not to block the law from going into effect. Abortion providers like Planned Parenthood and Whole Woman’s Health have decided to stop performing abortions after the sixth week of pregnancy in Texas as the lawsuit goes forward.
The Justice Department had asked the court to block the law from being enforced immediately without a hearing or other evidence pending the final trial in the case. On Wednesday, Judge Pitman denied that request and set a hearing before the court on October 1. At that hearing, he expects to hear arguments on both sides of the case and to consider evidence regarding blocking the law.
The Biden administration has argued that the Texas law violates federal judicial precedents that provide that a State may not stop a woman from seeking an abortion “before viability.” The DOJ has also said that attempting to “shield an unconstitutional law from the review cannot stand.”
Judge Pitman’s one-paragraph order said that the case presents “complex, important questions of law” that require a full opportunity for each side to present evidence and make arguments at a normal hearing.
While Pitman’s order allows the enforcement of the Heartbeat Act to go forward, for now, he could decide to issue a temporary restraining order after the hearing he has scheduled that might stop enforcement of the law until the final trial in the case or until an intermediate appeal to the federal court of appeals or the Supreme Court could go forward.
Whether it comes as a result of the federal case now pending in Pitman’s court or a case set for a decision by the Supreme Court in its upcoming term arising out of Mississippi, the high court will almost certainly decide the fate of the Texas Heartbeat Act and other abortion laws around the country.
In the case from Mississippi, the Supreme Court has been expressly requested to overturn the Roe v. Wade decision that enshrined abortion rights nationwide in 1973.