The choice Thursday could push the law closer to going back to the U.S. Supreme Court, which has already once enabled the limitations to take effect without ruling on its constitutionality. The Texas law bans abortions once cardiac activity is detected, usually approximately six weeks and before some women realize they are pregnant.
Since the law took effect in early September, Texas women have tried out abortion clinics in neighboring states, some driving hours through the middle of the night and including patients as young as 12 years old. The law makes no exception in cases of rape or incest.
"We hope the Department of Justice urgently appeals this order to the Supreme Court to restore Texans' ability to obtain abortion care after six weeks in pregnancy," announced Brigitte Amiri, deputy director of the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project.
The Justice Department did not immediately react to the ruling, and a spokesperson had no comment late Thursday.
In a 2-1 ruling, a three-judge panel of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals granted Texas' appeal to keep the law in place as the court case continues. It marks the third time the conservative-leaning appeals court has sided with Texas and let the limitations stand.
The panel announced it would promote the appeal and schedule oral arguments, though, did not say when.
The Texas Attorney General's Office called the decision a "testament that we are on the right side of the law and life."
It marks another setback for the Justice Department and Texas abortion providers in their attempts to derail the law, which has thus far prevailed because of a unique structure that leaves enforcement up to private citizens. In addition, anyone who brings a successful lawsuit against an abortion provider for breaking the law is entitled to claim no less than $10,000 in damages, which the Biden administration maintains amounts to a bounty.
Notwithstanding many legal challenges both before and after the law took effect Sept. 1, just once has a court moved to put the restriction on hold — and that order only stood for 48 hours.
Some Texas clinics rushed to perform abortions on patients past six weeks throughout that brief window, but many more appointments were canceled after the 5th Circuit moved to swiftly reinstate the law last week.
Texas had approximately two dozen abortion clinics before the law took effect, and operators have announced some may be forced to close if the restrictions linger in place for much longer.