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WASHINGTON () — Judges temporarily blocked abortion bans in Louisiana and Utah, while a federal court in South Carolina sharply restricted the procedure effective immediately as the battle over whether women may end pregnancies shifted from the nation’s highest court to courthouses around the country.
The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision Friday to end constitutional protections for abortion, opened the gates for a wave of litigation. One side sought quickly to put statewide bans into effect, and the other tried to stop or at least delay such measures.
Much of Monday’s court activity focused on “trigger laws,” adopted in 13 states that were designed to take effect swiftly upon last week’s ruling. ditional lawsuits could also target old anti-abortion laws that were left on the books in some states and went unenforced under Roe. Newer abortion restrictions that were put on hold pending the Supreme Court ruling are also coming back into play.
Rulings to put trigger laws on hold came swiftly in Utah and Louisiana.
A Utah judge blocked that state’s near-total abortion ban from going into effect for 14 days, to allow time for the court to hear challenges to the state’s trigger law. Planned Parenthood had challenged the law, which contains narrow exceptions for rape, incest or the mother’s health, saying the law violates the equal protection and privacy provisions in the state constitution.
“I think the immediate effects that will occur outweigh any policy interest of the state in stopping abortions,” Utah Judge Andrew Stone said.
In Louisiana, a judge in New Orleans, a liberal city in a conservative state, temporarily blocked enforcement of that state’s trigger-law ban on abortion, after abortion-rights activists argued that it is unclear. The ruling is in effect pending a July 8 hearing.
At least one of the state’s three abortion clinics said it would resume performing procedures on Tuesday.
“We’re going to do what we can,” said Kathaleen Pittman, administrator of Hope Medical Group for Women, in Shreveport. “It could all come to a screeching halt.”
Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry, a Republican and staunch abortion opponent, vowed to fight the judge’s ruling and enforce the law.
“We would remind everyone that the laws that are now in place were enacted by the people through State Constitutional Amendments and the LA Legislature,” Landry tweeted Monday.
Meanwhile, abortion-rights activists also went to court Monday to try to fend off restrictions in Texas, Idaho, Kentucky and Mississippi, the state at the center of the Supreme Court ruling, while the American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona filed an emergency motion there on Saturday seeking to block a 2021 law they worry can be used to halt all abortions.
In Friday’s ruling, the Supreme Court left it to the states to decide whether to allow abortion. By Saturday, abortion services had stopped in at least 11 states — either because of state laws or confusion over them.
That’s likely to be the case in Louisiana. The plaintiffs in the lawsuit filed in state court don’t deny that the state can now ban abortion. Instead, they contend Louisiana now has multiple, conflicting trigger mechanisms in the law.
They also argue that state law is unclear on whether it bans an abortion prior to a fertilized egg implanting in the uterus. And while the law provides an exception for “medically futile” pregnancies in cases of fetuses with lethal abnormalities, the plaintiffs noted the law gives no definition of the term.
Now that the high court has ruled that the U.S. Constitution does not guarantee the right to an abortion, abortion rights groups are seeking protection under state constitutions. Challenges to trigger laws could be made on the grounds that the conditions to impose the bans have not been met, or that it was improper for a past legislature to bind the current one.
Idaho, Oklahoma and Texas have adopted laws that allow people to seek bounties against those who help others get abortions. It is an open question as to whether that means people can be pursued across state lines, and legal challenges over the issue are likely to come up in cases of both surgical abortions and those involving medicine mailed to patients.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.