AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — The Texas Supreme Court blocked a lower court ruling late Friday night that would have allowed clinics to continue to perform abortions, days after some doctors had seen patients again after Roe came down vs. 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 scourge of Texas clinics turning away patients, rescheduling them and now potentially canceling appointments again — all in the space of a week — illustrated the confusion and turmoil that has gripped the country since Roe was overturned.
An order from a Houston judge earlier this week reassured some clinics that they could temporarily resume abortions up to six weeks into pregnancy. That was quickly followed by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton asking the state’s highest court, which is stacked with nine Republican justices, to temporarily put the order on hold.
“These laws are confusing, unnecessary and harsh,” Marc Hearron, an attorney for the Center for Reproductive Rights, said after the order was issued Friday night.
Clinics in Texas had stopped performing abortions in the state of nearly 30 million people after the US Supreme Court last week overturned Roe v. Wade and ended the constitutional right to abortion. Texas had technically left its abortion ban on the books for the past 50 years while Roe was in place.
A copy of Friday’s order was provided by attorneys for the Texas clinics. It was not immediately found on the court’s website.
Abortion providers and patients across the country are struggling to navigate the evolving legal landscape surrounding abortion laws and access.
In Florida, a law banning abortions after 15 weeks took effect Friday, a day after a judge called it a violation of the state constitution and said he would sign an order temporarily blocking the law next week. The ban could have broader implications in the South, where Florida has wider access to the process than its neighbors.
Abortion rights were lost and regained within days in Kentucky. A so-called enabling law that imposes a near-total ban on the procedure went into effect last Friday, but a judge blocked the law Thursday, meaning the state’s only two abortion providers can continue to see patients — for now.
The legal battle is almost certain to continue to wreak havoc on Americans seeking abortions for the foreseeable future, with court rulings that could overturn access immediately and an influx of new patients from overwhelming out-of-state providers.
Even when women travel outside of states with abortion bans, they may have fewer options to end their pregnancies as the prospect of prosecution follows them.
Planned Parenthood of Montana this week stopped providing medication abortions to patients living in states with bans “to minimize the potential risk to providers, health center staff and patients in the face of a rapidly changing landscape.”
Planned Parenthood North Central States, which offers the procedure in Minnesota, Iowa and Nebraska, tells its patients that they must take both pills in the regimen in a state that allows abortions.
The use of abortion pills has been the most common method of ending a pregnancy since 2000, when the US Food and Drug Administration approved mifepristone – the main drug used in medical abortions. Taken with misoprostol, a cramping drug that empties the uterus, it is the abortion pill.
“There is a lot of confusion and concern that providers may be at risk and trying to limit their liability so they can provide care to people who need it,” said Dr. Daniel Grossman, who directs the research group Advancing New Standards at the Reproductive Health at 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 tell patients that they must be in a state where it is legal to complete a medical abortion — which requires the taking two medications 24 to 48 hours apart. He said most patients from states with bans are expected to opt for surgical abortions.
Access to the pill has become a key battle for abortion rights, with the Biden administration preparing to argue that states cannot ban an FDA-approved drug.
Kim Floren, who runs an abortion fund in South Dakota called the Justice Empowerment Network, said the development would further limit women’s options.
“The point of these laws anyway is to scare people,” Floren said of state abortion bans and telemedicine consultations for medication abortions. “The logistics of enforcing them are a nightmare, but they rely on the fact that people will be scared.”
A South Dakota law took effect Friday that threatens felony punishment for anyone who prescribes abortion drugs without a license from the South Dakota Board of Medical and Osteopathic Examiners.
In Alabama, Attorney General Steve Marshall’s office said it is looking into whether individuals or groups could face prosecution for helping women finance and travel to out-of-state abortion appointments.
The Yellowhammer Fund, an Alabama-based group that helps low-income women cover abortion and travel expenses, said it is suspending operations for two weeks because of a lack of clarity under state law.
“This is a temporary pause and we’re going to figure out how we can get you legitimate money and resources and what that looks like,” said Kelsea McLain, Yellowhammer’s director of health care access.
Laura Goodhue, executive director of the Florida Alliance of Planned Parenthood Affiliates, said staff members at her clinics have seen women drive from as far away as Texas without stopping — or making an appointment. Women past 15 weeks have been asked to leave their details and promised to call back if a judge signs the order temporarily blocking the restriction, she said.
However, there is concern that the order may only be temporary and the law may be reinstated later, creating additional confusion.
“It’s terrible for patients,” he said. “We’re really nervous about what’s going to happen.”
Izaguirre reported from Tallahassee, Florida and Groves from Sioux Falls, South Dakota. AP Writers Dylan Lovan contributed from Louisville, Kentucky. Adriana Gomez Licon from Miami. and Kim Chandler of Montgomery, Alabama.