U.S. judge blocks near-total abortion ban in Texas

A U.S. federal judge on Wednesday temporarily blocked the near-total ban on abortion in Texas, opening up a new phase in the legal battle over the country's toughest abortion law yet.

The U.S. Supreme Court had earlier allowed the ban to proceed, in a 5-4 vote powered by conservative justices.

Wednesday's order comes after the Biden administration urged legal intervention, and temporarily prevents the state from enforcing the Republican-backed law as it continues to be debated in courts.

The U.S. Justice Department argued that the law violates the constitutional right to abortion recognized by the Supreme Court's landmark Roe v. Wade decision, and improperly interferes with the federal government's ability to provide abortion-related services.

Meanwhile an attorney representing the state of Texas argued there were plenty of opportunities for people in the state to challenge the law on their own, and said it intended to take Wednesday's ruling to the conservative-leaning Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals.

The Texas law seeks to ban abortion after six weeks of pregnancy, before many women realize they're pregnant, and makes no exceptions for rape or incest.

It also lets ordinary citizens enforce the ban, rewarding them at least $10,000 if they successfully sue anyone who violates the ban, which critics have likened to anti-abortion bounty hunters.

The Texas case is part of a fierce legal battle over abortion access across the country, with numerous other states pursuing restrictions.

The Supreme Court will consider Mississippi's 15-week abortion ban on December 1.

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