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Agreement would block Texas abortion law until late November


Texas officials agree that law limiting second-trimester abortions will not be enforced until late November.

Delay would give time for a trial on a law that abortion providers say will ban a common procedure.

Lawyers representing Texas and abortion providers have asked a federal judge to hold a trial beginning Nov. 2 on whether Texas can enforce a new law limiting second-trimester abortions — a delay of about seven weeks designed to provide more time to prepare for the trial.

To accommodate the delay, Texas officials also agreed that the law wouldn’t be enforced until late November.

U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel had blocked the law on Aug. 31, one day before it was to take effect, with a 14-day temporary restraining order that was set to expire Sept. 14, when a hearing was to be held in his Austin courtroom on whether to continue blocking the law with a preliminary injunction.

Instead, abortion providers and Attorney General Ken Paxton’s office agreed to delay matters until a trial set to begin Nov. 2 — allowing Yeakel to rule on the law’s constitutionality after a single trial instead of multiple hearings.

Texas officials also agreed to continue Yeakel’s restraining order as late as Nov. 22 to allow time for the trial. Yeakel hadn’t yet signed a proposed order granting the delay, submitted by both sides, by Friday evening.

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The legal fight is over a provision in Senate Bill 8, passed by the Legislature in May, that bans what abortion opponents call “dismemberment abortions,” which isn’t a medical term but which would apply to dilation and evacuation procedures, the most common form of second-trimester abortions.

When he stopped Texas from enforcing the law, Yeakel said abortion providers had shown that, without a temporary restraining order, a Texas woman seeking an abortion after the 15th week of pregnancy could be denied access to “the most commonly used and safest” procedure available.

“The act leaves that woman and her physician with abortion procedures that are more complex, risky, expensive, difficult for many women to arrange, and often involve multi-day visits to physicians, and overnight hospital stays,” the judge wrote.

Lawyers for Texas had argued that the regulation didn’t ban any particular type of abortion but instead required doctors to ensure “fetal demise” before beginning the procedure. Texas, they argued, had a legitimate interest in regulating “inhumane and particularly gruesome” procedures.

But lawyers representing abortion clinics and doctors said the state identified three methods of causing fetal demise that carry increased health risks for women, aren’t fully effective and are untested in pregnancies of less than 18 weeks, requiring doctors to essentially “experiment” on patients.

Seven other states have similar laws; courts have blocked five of them. Laws in the other two states weren’t challenged.

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