Federal judge tosses out Texas abortion law – again

District Judge Lee Yeakel

For the third time this year, a federal judge has tossed out an abortion-related regulation in Texas — this time a law that bans a common type of second-trimester abortion unless doctors first employ an added procedure to ensure fetal demise.

In a ruling issued Wednesday afternoon, U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel of Austin said the law requires doctors to use risky, unproven and medically unnecessary methods to cause fetal demise before beginning a dilation and evacuation abortion, the safest and most common such procedure after the 15th week of pregnancy.

The added procedure, typically conducted by injecting toxins into the fetus via a 4-inch needle inserted through the abdomen or vagina, carries increased risks of infection and other health complications, Yeakel wrote.

“The court is unaware of any other medical context that requires a doctor — in contravention of the doctor’s medical judgment and the best interest of the patient — to conduct a medical procedure that delivers no benefit to the woman,” he wrote.

In his ruling, Yeakel acknowledged that the state has an interest in preserving the life of a fetus, as determined by the Supreme Court. But the state’s interest does not supersede a woman’s right to an abortion, he said.

“That a woman may make the decision to have an abortion before a fetus may survive outside her womb is solely and exclusively the woman’s decision. The power to make this decision is her right,” Yeakel wrote.

“The state’s position is that the right and the interest are entitled to equal weight. But this is incorrect,” the judge added. “The state’s legitimate interest in fetal life does not allow the imposition of an additional medical procedure … not driven by medical necessity. Here, the state’s interest must give way to the woman’s right.”

At the urging of abortion providers, Yeakel temporarily blocked the Texas law on Aug. 31, the day before it was to take effect. That 14-day temporary restraining order was extended until Wednesday to allow time for Yeakel to issue a written opinion after a five-day trial on the law’s constitutionality that took place earlier this month.

Abortion rights advocates praised Wednesday’s decision.

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