Federal judge overrules Texas ban on late-term abortion method

Chase Karacostas

Lee Yeakel, a U.S. District Court Judge, issued a final injunction last week against Senate Bill 8, which would have almost completely banned dilation and evacuation, the most common second-trimester abortion method.

Passed during Texas’ summer special legislative session, the bill included an amendment banning this abortion procedure. Yeakel’s decision came two weeks after the end of a five-day trial on the bill’s constitutionality.

“(This) decision affirms what we already know — that politics should never tie the hands of doctors or bar women from safe medical care,” said Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America and one of the plaintiffs in the case, in a press release. “We’re grateful today’s decision will safeguard our patients’ access to safe, legal abortion in Texas and every person’s right to make their own pregnancy decisions.”

In this procedure, a doctor surgically removes fetal tissue, and SB 8 only allows it to occur if the fetus is deceased. Critics of the procedure have called it “dismemberment abortion” because of the way the fetal tissue is removed.

In response to the ban being struck down, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton immediately filed an appeal of the decision with the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals.

“Through extraordinary evidence and expert witness testimony, we established that Senate Bill 8 is lawful, treats the unborn with dignity and respect and protects the integrity of the medical profession,” Paxton said in a press release. “We will defend Senate Bill 8 all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, if necessary.”

Soon after the bill’s signing by Gov. Greg Abbott in July, Whole Woman’s Health, Planned Parenthood of America and others sued the state to prevent the bill from going into effect on Sept. 1.

During the trial, Paxton argued the bill did not actually ban the procedure, but instead ensures the unborn fetus is treated humanely. There are methods to cause fetal demise prior to the procedure, but the plaintiffs said they do not always work and put the physician conducting the procedure at risk of criminal penalties.

Paige Kubenka, vice president of Texas Students for Life, said while Yeakel’s decision was disappointing, it was to be expected.

“We had heard that (Yeakel) supports abortion often, so we weren’t really surprised,” said Kubenka, rhetoric and writing sophomore. “I’m pretty hopeful that it will survive the next round of appeals, just going with precedent that has been set with other cases.”

Blake Rocap, legislative counsel for NARAL Pro-Choice Texas, said his organization was glad to see the bill knocked down. Rocap said SB 8 represented the state unnecessarily inserting itself between patients and their physicians.  

“It’s dangerous for the state to intercede in both that physician-patient relationship and to compromise the physician’s best judgment by imposing unnecessary, arbitrary and dangerous restrictions on their practice of medicine,” Rocap said.

Going into the appeals process, Rocap said they are concerned that the bill might survive the 5th Circuit, which he said is known for its conservatism in abortion rights. Previously, the court upheld a Texas law that would have forced most Texas clinics offering abortions to shut down. The law was later struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court.

“There’s certainly a worry that … the 5th Circuit will try to adopt their own or a new standard,” Rocap said.