'Clearly unconstitutional': Justice Department sues Texas to block abortion law
WASHINGTON – The Justice Department is suing the state of Texas in an attempt to block the enforcement of a strict abortion law decried by the Biden administration as an untenable denial of reproductive health care for women.
“The (Texas) act is clearly unconstitutional under long-standing Supreme Court precedent," Attorney General Merrick Garland said Thursday.
This "scheme to nullify the Constitution" is one that all Americans, whatever their politics, should fear, Garland said.
The civil action seeks a permanent injunction to keep the state from enforcing the law, claiming the state law is "invalid and pre-empted by federal law."
The Texas law, known as Senate Bill 8, bans abortions when a fetal heartbeat is detected, usually at about six weeks of pregnancy. The law doesn't include traditional exceptions for abortion, such as for rape or incest, but allows women to have the procedure for "medical emergencies."
Against abortion 'bounty hunters'
Another provision of the measure allows private citizens to sue abortion providers and anyone involved in "aiding and abetting" abortions, which Garland said would encourage vigilantes to seek bounties for bringing successful legal action.
The federal lawsuit asserts that “the state has deputized ordinary citizens to serve as bounty hunters who are statutorily authorized to recover at least $10,000 per claim from individuals who facilitate a woman’s exercise of her constitutional rights.”
“It takes little imagination to discern Texas’s goal – to make it too risky for an abortion clinic to operate in the state, thereby preventing women throughout Texas from exercising their constitutional rights, while simultaneously thwarting judicial review,” the lawsuit states. “Thus far, the law has had its desired effect. To date, abortion providers have ceased providing services prohibited by S.B. 8.”
DOJ:Department of Justice vows to protect those seeking abortion from new Texas law
'Near-total ban':Texas doctors, women assess nation's strictest abortion law
What will courts uphold?
Renae Eze, spokesperson for Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, defended the law and cast federal action as an attempt to change "the national narrative" from the administration's "disastrous Afghanistan evacuation."
"We are confident that the courts will uphold and protect that right to life," Eze said.
Brigitte Amiri, deputy director of the American Civil Liberties Union's Reproductive Freedom Project, called the federal lawsuit "welcome news."
"This first step by the Department of Justice is critical to righting this injustice for the people of Texas and to prevent this catastrophe from playing out in other states," Amiri said.
Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the anti-abortion Susan B. Anthony (SBA) List, derided the Biden administration as "out of touch with the American people."
"The Texas Heartbeat Act is a response to 50 years of Supreme Court interference in states’ legitimate interest in protecting life and their right to debate and pass laws reflecting their people’s values," Dannenfelser said.
The legal action followed Garland's pledge this week that the federal government would "continue to protect those seeking to obtain or provide reproductive health services pursuant to our criminal and civil enforcement" of a law known as the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act.
The federal law prohibits the threatened use of violence and intimidation to block access to clinics.
"The department will provide support from federal law enforcement when an abortion clinic or reproductive health center is under attack," Garland said. "We have reached out to U.S. attorneys’ offices and FBI field offices in Texas and across the country to discuss our enforcement authorities."
More than a week ago, a divided Supreme Court allowed the Texas law to take effect.
SCOTUS: Texas abortion law renews scrutiny of Supreme Court 'shadow docket'
President Joe Biden predicted the law would unleash "unconstitutional chaos" and would require "millions of women in Texas in need of critical reproductive care to suffer while courts sift through procedural complexities."
Abortion providers said the legislation would restrict 85% of abortion procedures in Texas. The law is one of the most direct challenges on the boundaries of the U.S. Supreme Court's landmark Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion in 1973.
Contributing: John Fritze and Courtney Subramanian