Temporary block placed on Texas abortion law

(Photo: Unsplash/Tessa Rampersad)

A US federal judge has temporarily suspended enforcement of a new law banning most abortions in the state of Texas. 

The move comes after the justice department filed an emergency motion to stop enforcement of the law while the White House contests its legality.

Explaining his decision to suspend enforcement, District Judge Robert Pitman said "women have been unlawfully prevented from exercising control over their lives in ways that are protected by the Constitution".

"This court will not sanction one more day of this offensive deprivation of such an important right," he said.

Senate Bill 8 was passed by Texas' Republican legislators and signed by Republican governor Greg Abbott in May.

It became known as the "Heartbeat Act" because it bans the abortion of unborn babies with a detectable heartbeat - mostly from around six weeks.

Pro-life group The Lozier Institute estimates that 132 unborn babies will be saved each day because of the law. 

The Biden administration is intervening after the Supreme Court - which has a conservative majority - refused to stop Texas from enacting the law. 

READ MORE: Abortion in the USA: What is happening in Texas?

The White House said the district judge's ruling was "an important step" to restoring the constitutional rights of women in Texas.

Abortion providers in the state, who want the law struck down permanently, have said that with the restrictions lifted for now, abortions will be resumed as soon as possible. 

This is despite a clause in the law threatening legal reprisals for abortions carried out while an emergency injunction is in place.

In his ruling, Judge Pitman addressed this clause and said it was "of questionable legality".

Defending the Heartbeat Act, pro-life group The Susan B Anthony List said the law is "compassionate" and should be protected by the Supreme Court.

"The people of Texas spoke through their legislators: They want to protect babies with beating hearts. Now an unelected judge has stepped in and blocked it," it said.

"This has played out for decades and must end. It's time for SCOTUS [the US Supreme Court] to rule in Dobbs and hand the issue back to the people."