A federal judge has temporarily blocked an abortion ban in Alabama that would criminalise the procedure at any stage of a pregnancy in most cases.
Abortion rights groups sued the state after Republican lawmakers approved the bill in May, but both sides expected the law to be blocked in federal court.
The controversial bill was to go into effect on 15 November.
Anti-abortion supporters hope the case will eventually reach the Supreme Court to overturn national abortion laws.
US District Judge Myron Thompson granted a preliminary injunction on Tuesday until the court is able to resolve the case in full.
He wrote in a 17-page opinion that the abortion ban “defies the United States constitution”.
“Alabama’s abortion ban contravenes clear Supreme Case Court precedent,” the judge wrote.
“It violates the right of an individual to privacy, to make choices central to personal dignity and autonomy. It diminishes the capacity of women to act in society, and to make reproductive decisions.”
The law allows exceptions only if the mother’s life is seriously at risk or the foetus has a fatal complication – but would not allow exceptions in cases of rape or incest.
Physicians who provide abortions could go to jail for life under the ban.
Alabama is one of several states to pass such highly restrictive abortion laws this year – and dozens more have proposed similar bills in their legislatures – though none have gone into effect thus far.
Anti-abortion supporters hope the legal challenges will reach the Supreme Court and allow the now conservative-leaning court to overturn the Roe v Wade ruling that legalised abortion nationally in 1973.
Roe v Wade states that abortions are protected up until viability – the point at which a foetus is able to survive outside the womb, around the third trimester of a pregnancy.
What’s the reaction?
The state’s attorney general Steve Marshall said in a statement after the ruling that the outcome was expected, AL.com reported.
“As we have stated before, the State’s objective is to advance our case to the US Supreme Court where we intend to submit evidence that supports our argument that Roe and Casey were wrongly decided and that the Constitution does not prohibit states from protecting unborn children from abortion.”
Alabama congresswoman Terri Collins, who spearheaded the ban, also said the ruling was “welcomed” and was “merely the first of many steps on that legal journey” to see Roe overturned, according to AL.com.
The Alabama American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which brought the lawsuit against the law alongside abortion provider Planned Parenthood, praised the decision while criticising the state.
“The state’s repeated attempts to push abortion out of reach by enacting unconstitutional laws restricting abortions have already cost taxpayers nearly $2.5m,” said executive director Randall Marshall.
“This ill-advised law will cost taxpayers more money.”
Dr Yashica Robinson, an abortion provider and another plaintiff in the case, said: “This win is critical to our patients and to healthcare providers like myself.”
“The abortion care we provide is essential healthcare, and these ruthless attacks from anti-abortion politicians have no place in Alabama.”