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A controversial abortion ban in Texas is back in effect


A controversial and unique abortion ban in Texas is now back in effect. Last night, a panel of federal judges reinstated the law, known as SB 8, just days after a U.S. District Court judge blocked its enforcement. The Texas law allows individuals to file lawsuits against abortion providers. NPR's Sarah McCammon joins us. Sarah, thanks so much for being with us.

SARAH MCCAMMON, BYLINE: Good morning, Scott.

SIMON: This has been legal back and forth. What does the latest order mean?

MCCAMMON: It really has. What it means is that while there was a glimmer of hope this week for abortion rights advocates, any effort to resume standard abortion services in Texas has been dealt a setback. And abortions, for the most part, are illegal in that state. Just to quickly review, this law took effect September 1. That happened after the U.S. Supreme Court declined a request to block it. The Biden administration has been separately challenging the law. And on Wednesday night, you may remember as part of that lawsuit, a federal judge, Robert Pittman, blocked SB 8, calling it clearly unconstitutional. But now this latest order from a three judge panel of the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals allows SB 8 to go back into effect. That makes most procedures in the state once again illegal.

SIMON: And, Sarah, what does this mean for women in Texas?

MCCAMMON: SB 8 had forced abortion providers in Texas either to stop offering the procedure completely or to turn most patients away. Eighty-five to 90% of abortions were covered by this law. So many women began going out of state. I was with a team from NPR this week at an abortion clinic just across the Texas-Louisiana border in Shreveport. We spoke to a patient there named Gabby (ph) from Austin. She's 23. She told me she found out she was pregnant right around the time that SB 8 was taking effect. And she said she was really confused about her options.

GABBY: Not only having to deal with, like, the mental, the physical, the emotional stress of early pregnancy, like, already brings on - I was then having to deal with, like, OK, what are my options even with being a resident in Texas? And what can and can I not do outside of the state?

MCCAMMON: And just to be clear, this law targets abortion providers or anyone who helps someone get an abortion, not patients directly. And it only applies to procedures in Texas. But both patients, like Gabby, who asked us to just use her first name to protect her privacy, and health care providers say this has created a lot of confusion and anxiety.

SIMON: What are anti-abortion-rights activists saying about this decision?

MCCAMMON: Well, of course, they're pleased with this latest decision allowing the law to be in effect. Texas Right to Life, which pushed for the law in the state legislature, called the decision an answer to prayer. Rebecca Parma with Texas Right to Life spoke to our colleague Steve Inskeep yesterday before this latest decision. And she said that this is part of a larger strategy designed to end abortion. She says SB 8 is working alongside efforts to overturn Roe v. Wade in the Supreme Court.

REBECCA PARMA: The right to abortion or so-called right to abortion, we would argue, is not an actual constitutional right. And that's what this whole Mississippi case is going to be arguing - right? - and what the Supreme Court considers. And so while that's happening, as a state, we want to push to protect as many pre-born children as possible, and that's what this law does.

MCCAMMON: And she's referring, of course, there both to SB 8 in Texas and another case from Mississippi that the Supreme Court will hear in December.

SIMON: Of course, Sarah, this isn't the last legal word, is it?

MCCAMMON: Not at all. This is just a stay. The three-judge panel has given the Biden administration until Tuesday to respond to a related legal maneuver from the state of Texas. So there's more to come in the federal courts. The case is also expected very likely to end up back before the Supreme Court at some point. Things are just very uncertain still. For now, when I was in Louisiana this week at an abortion clinic there, the director told us she's extended her hours to accommodate women from Texas. And she's planning to keep doing that as long as she needs to.

SIMON: NPR's Sarah McCammon, thanks so much.

MCCAMMON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.
Sarah McCammon is a National Correspondent covering the Mid-Atlantic and Southeast for NPR. Her work focuses on political, social and cultural divides in America, including abortion and reproductive rights, and the intersections of politics and religion. She's also a frequent guest host for NPR news magazines, podcasts and special coverage.