Justice Department sues Texas over abortion law

·4-min read

The Justice Department announced Thursday that it is suing Texas over the state’s new law banning most abortions.

Attorney General Merrick Garland said the Texas law is “clearly unconstitutional” and includes an “unprecedented scheme” to insulate the state from responsibility.

The suit, filed in Texas federal court, charges that the law is invalid and asks a judge to issue a “permanent and preliminary injunction prohibiting enforcement of the statute,” Garland said at a press conference.

The law stands as the country’s most restrictive abortion access in decades. It grants a $10,000 minimum reward to private citizens who successfully bring lawsuits against anyone involved in aiding an abortion. The law also prohibits abortions once medical professionals can detect cardiac activity — usually around six weeks into a pregnancy. Because many women do not even realize they’re pregnant that early, the law is nearly a complete abortion ban.

Attorney General Merrick Garland announces a lawsuit to block the enforcement of new Texas law that bans most abortions at the Justice Department in Washington, Thursday, Sept. 9, 2021. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
Attorney General Merrick Garland announces a lawsuit to block the enforcement of Texas's new abortion law on Thursday. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

As Garland noted Thursday, the law does not include exceptions even for cases of rape, sexual abuse or incest.

The action comes a week after the Supreme Court declined to block the law from going into effect, citing “complex and novel” procedural questions regarding the abortion providers who had challenged it. Chief Justice John Roberts sided with the court’s three liberals in dissent, but the five other conservatives prevailed in a 5-4 opinion.

In the wake of the Supreme Court opinion, Republican lawmakers in other states have indicated that they plan to use the Texas statute as a model to enact their own abortion restrictions. Asked whether he expects the Justice Department to take similar action against other states that copy the Texas law, Garland said, “If another state uses the same kind of provisions to deprive its citizens of their constitutional right, and to deprive their citizens of the ability to seek immediate review, we will bring the same kind of lawsuit.”

“This kind of scheme to nullify the Constitution of the United States is one that all Americans, whatever their politics or party, should fear,” Garland said. “If it prevails, it may become a model for action in other areas by other states and with respect to other constitutional rights and judicial precedents.”

In response to the Justice Department's lawsuit, the Associated Press reported that a spokesperson for Texas Gov. Greg Abbott stood by the controversial law.

About 200 abortion rights demonstrators gathered outside the Old Courthouse in St. Louis, for a rally on Thursday, Sept. 9, 2021. Speakers warned that Missouri will likely pursue a restrictive abortion law similar to Texas. (AP Photo/Jim Salter)
Abortion rights demonstrators outside the Old Courthouse in St. Louis on Thursday. Speakers warned that Missouri will likely pursue a restrictive abortion law similar to Texas's. (AP Photo/Jim Salter)

“The most precious freedom is life itself,” said Abbott spokesperson Renae Eze. “Texas passed a law that ensures that the life of every child with a heartbeat will be spared from the ravages of abortion.”

Garland’s announcement came after days of pressure from prominent Democrats for the White House to act.

“Texas enacted SB8 in open defiance of the Constitution,” the lawsuit states in a filing to the United States District Court for the Western District of Texas, Austin Division. “The statute prohibits most pre-viability abortions, even in cases of rape, sexual abuse, or incest. It also prohibits any effort to aid — or, indeed, any intent to aid — the doctors who provide pre-viability abortions or the women who exercise their right to seek one.”  

Both President Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris harshly criticized the law last week.

“The Texas law will significantly impair women’s access to the health care they need, particularly for communities of color and individuals with low incomes,” Biden said. “And, outrageously, it deputizes private citizens to bring lawsuits against anyone who they believe has helped another person get an abortion, which might even include family members, health care workers, front-desk staff at a health care clinic or strangers with no connection to the individual.”

Biden has consistently said he supports the codification of Roe v. Wade in federal legislation to guarantee abortion access to all citizens. But with the Senate filibuster requiring 60 votes to act on most laws, the prospects of such a move are slim unless voting rules are reformed.

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