NEW ORLEANS -- A federal appeals court in New Orleans has set a January hearing to reconsider its ruling that struck down a Texas law banning a common second-trimester abortion procedure.
The Texas law used the non-medical term “dismemberment abortion” to describe the procedure. Abortion rights groups say the procedure, known as dilation and evacuation, is the safest and most common second-trimester abortion procedure.
A three-judge panel of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals voted 2-1 to strike down the law in October. But the full court voted to hear the case again. The court on Monday scheduled the hearing for Jan. 21.
Courts have also blocked similar measures passed by other GOP-controlled statehouses in recent years. Last year, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear arguments over a similar Alabama law.
But developments since then have given new hope to abortion opponents who hope to revive the ban in Texas, Kentucky and other states. One reason is a decision in June, in which the Supreme Court struck down a Louisiana law that required doctors who perform abortions to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals.
That was a victory for abortion rights supporters, but abortion opponents noted a concurring opinion from Chief Justice John Roberts.
Roberts had sided with the court’s four liberal justices in striking down the Louisiana law. He said the court should stand by an earlier decision striking down another state’s nearly identical law. However, he also said he thought the earlier decision had been wrongly decided, and lawyers in anti-abortion states have argued that his opinion indicates that states have greater leeway to regulate abortion.
Since then, conservative Justice Amy Coney Barrett has also joined the Supreme Court, boosting abortion opponents' hopes that the nation's highest court may be open to new restrictions over the procedure.
Appellate judges in other areas also appear to think the issue might be ripe for another look. In August, the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals lifted a lower court order that had blocked four Arkansas abortion restrictions, including a ban on dilation and evacuation procedures. The 8th Circuit ruling said the U.S. District Judge in Arkansas needed to take another look at the issue in light of Roberts’ opinion in the Louisiana case.
And Kentucky's attorney general recently went to the Supreme Court in hopes of reviving that state's ban on the procedure, also citing Robert's writing in the Louisiana case.