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Abortion ban takes effect in Tennessee, paused in Texas

Abortion-rights demonstrator Jessica Smith holds a sign in front of the Hamilton County Court House in May in Chattanooga, Tenn. A federal court on today allowed Tennessee's ban on abortion as early as six weeks into pregnancy to take effect, citing the Supreme Court's decision last week to overturn the landmark Roe v. Wade abortion rights case. (AP Photo/Ben Margot, File)

A federal court today allowed Tennessee to ban abortions as early as six weeks into pregnancy, while a Texas judge temporarily blocked enforcement of that state’s ban on virtually all abortions, in a flurry of activity set off at courthouses across the U.S. by the overturning of Roe v. Wade.

Statewide bans or other restrictions that were either left on the books for generations, tied up by legal challenges or specifically designed to take effect if Roe were to fall are now in play as a result of last week’s Supreme Court ruling eliminating the constitutional right to terminate a pregnancy.

Roughly half the states are expected to prohibit or severely limit the procedure now that the high court has left it up to them.

Since Friday, judges have agreed to allow bans or other restrictions to take effect in Alabama, Ohio, South Carolina and Tennessee. But abortion bans remained temporarily blocked in some states, including Louisiana, Texas and Utah. Decisions are pending in other places, including Florida and Indiana. Abortion rights advocates also dropped some of their legal efforts in Indiana, Minnesota and Missouri.

Some clinics initially turned patients away soon after the high court ruling came down, but then reopened as judges ruled in their favor. That happened in Louisiana today.

In Houston, a Democratic city in a conservative state, a judge blocked enforcement for now of a statewide ban on virtually all abortions, according to a group representing abortion clinics in Texas.

“It is a relief that this Texas state court acted so quickly to block this deeply harmful abortion ban,” said Marc Hearron, senior counsel at the Center for Reproductive Rights.

Abortions in Texas are still prohibited at about six weeks because of a law that took effect last year. But after today’s ruling, Texas clinics, which stopped providing services on Friday, received assurances they can resume operations for at least a few more weeks without risking prosecution. At least one provider reopened to patients.

In Tennessee, the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals today allowed a six-week ban to take effect at the state’s request. An even more restrictive ban, prohibiting nearly all abortions, is set to take effect in a month. Both measures would make performing an abortion a felony and subject doctors to up to 15 years in prison.

The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision opened the gates on a wave of litigation. One side is seeking to put statewide bans into effect swiftly, while the other is trying to stop or at least delay such measures.

Much of the court activity focused on “trigger laws” adopted in 13 states that were designed to take effect quickly upon last week’s ruling. Additional 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.

Abortion rights supporters gathered at the South Carolina statehouse today. Merritt Watts, who moved to South Carolina from California last year, said if she still lived in California, she would have “completely different rights.”

“I used to think of red states as someone else’s problem, but it’s not,” the Charleston resident said. “They deserve what Californians have.”

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