WebMD News Brief

Justice Department Sues to Stop Texas Abortion Law

photo of woman holding pregnancy test

Sept. 10, 2021 -- The U.S. Justice Department has filed a lawsuit to stop enforcement of Texas’s restrictive new abortion law, with Attorney General Merrick Garland calling it a “scheme to nullify the Constitution.”

The law went into effect last week and prohibits abortion once a fetal heartbeat is detected, which is usually around 6 weeks -- often before people know they’re pregnant. The law also allows citizens to bring civil suits against anyone who helps a pregnant person seeking an abortion.

“The Act is clearly unconstitutional under longstanding Supreme Court precedent,” Garland said when announcing the suit.

“Those precedents hold … that ‘[r]egardless of whether exceptions are made for particular circumstances, a State may not prohibit any woman from making the ultimate decision to terminate her pregnancy before viability.’”

Renae Eze, a spokeswoman for Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, told The New York Timesthat Abbott is confident the courts will uphold the law.

“President Biden and his administration are more interested in changing the national narrative from their disastrous Afghanistan evacuation and reckless open border policies instead of protecting the innocent unborn,” she said.

Garland criticized the part of the law that allows any citizen to sue a person who helps another person get an abortion, if only by lending them money or giving them a ride to a clinic.

Instead of relying on state government to enforce the law, “the statute deputizes all private citizens -- without any showing of personal connection or injury -- to serve as bounty hunters, authorized to recover at least $10,000 per claim from individuals who facilitate a woman’s exercise of her constitutional rights,” he said.

The intent of this “statutory scheme” is to deprive women of their right to an abortion, intimidate abortion providers into going out of business, and delay judicial review as long as possible, Garland said.

“Thus far, the law has had its intended effect,” he said.

The law could become a model for other states that want to find a way to overturn or get around the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion nationwide, said Garland.

Last week, the U.S. Supreme Court was asked to block enforcement of the Texas law but voted 5-4 not to do so. The Times said the court stressed it had not ruled on the constitutionality of the Texas law.

The Justice Department filed its lawsuit in the Western District of Texas and seeks an injunction to stop enforcement of the law.

If either side appeals a decision, the case could easily be sent to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, which leans conservative, the Times said, meaning the Texas law could end up before the U.S. Supreme Court in several months.

WebMD Health News Brief

Sources

U.S. Justice Department: “Attorney General Merrick B. Garland Delivers Remarks Announcing Lawsuit Against the State of Texas to Stop Unconstitutional Senate Bill 8.”

The New York Times: “The Justice Dept. sues Texas over its new restrictive abortion law.”

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