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As a federal judge blocks Texas' abortion ban, what happens now?

A federal judge has blocked enforcement of Texas' highly controversial abortion ban. So what happens now?
Image: Inside The Whole Women's Health Abortion Clinic As Scalia Death Upends Case Involving Texas Abortion Safety Rules
A procedure room with medical equipment at the Whole Woman's Health abortion clinic in San Antonio, on Feb. 16, 2016.Matthew Busch / Bloomberg via Getty Images file

It was on Sept. 1 when five Republican-appointed U.S. Supreme Court justices gave the green light to Texas' new abortion ban, effectively halting Roe v. Wade protections in the nation's second largest state. But even at the time, it was clear that the ruling would not be the final word on the subject.

The conservative justices had not issued an opinion on the merits of the case. There were no oral arguments. There were no stacks of briefs filed for the justices' consideration. Rather, what happened was that Texas Republicans created a six-week abortion ban — creating conditions in which many women would have to terminate unwanted pregnancies before they knew they're pregnant — while deputizing ordinary citizens to enforce the law through litigation.

The Supreme Court's conservative majority understood that the Texas law ignored existing legal precedent, but the Republican-appointed justices said the law could be implemented anyway while the statute was tested in the lower courts.

It was against this backdrop that a lower court yesterday blocked Texas' abortion ban. NBC News reported:

A federal judge granted the Justice Department a temporary injunction late Wednesday blocking the enforcement of Texas' strict abortion law. U.S. District Judge Robert Pitman issued the order, which will block the state from enforcing the law, known as S.B. 8, which was passed by the GOP-controlled Legislature.

"From the moment S.B. 8 went into effect, women have been unlawfully prevented from exercising control over their lives in ways that are protected by the Constitution," Pitman wrote in last night's ruling. "That other courts may find a way to avoid this conclusion is theirs to decide; this Court will not sanction one more day of this offensive deprivation of such an important right."

As Rachel noted on last night's show, lawyers representing the state had not only tried to defend the law, they'd asked the district court judge to hold off on issuing an injunction until they could file an appeal. Pitman rejected the call.

"The State has forfeited the right to any such accommodation by pursuing an unprecedented and aggressive scheme to deprive its citizens of a significant and well-established constitutional right," the judge wrote. "From the moment S.B. 8 went into effect, women have been unlawfully prevented from exercising control over their lives in ways that are protected by the Constitution."

The White House issued a statement celebrating the ruling, as did Attorney General Merrick Garland, who said, "Today's ruling enjoining the Texas law is a victory for women in Texas and for the rule of law. It is the foremost responsibility of the Department of Justice to defend the Constitution. We will continue to protect constitutional rights against all who would seek to undermine them."

With this in mind, as of this minute, Texas' abortion ban is no longer being implemented. A federal judge heard from both sides, evaluated the legality of the statute, and issued an injunction. For now, Roe v. Wade protections have returned to the Lone Star State.

The obvious question, however, is how long this might last.

As NBC News' report added, Texas has already appealed Pitman's order to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals — where Republican-appointed jurists dominate — which will decide whether to issue a stay and allow the law to remain in effect while litigation proceeds.

Whoever loses that round can file another appeal to ... you guessed it ... the U.S. Supreme Court.

Watch this space.