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US Justice Department sues Texas over restrictive abortion law

The Texas law bans abortion after six weeks of pregnancy.

Image: Alamy Stock Photo

THE US JUSTICE Department filed a suit against Texas today over a law that bans abortion after six weeks of pregnancy.

It follows through on a pledge by President Joe Biden to fight restrictions on the procedure in the Republican-ruled state.

“The act is clearly unconstitutional,” Attorney General Merrick Garland said at a press conference.

“The Department of Justice has a duty to defend the Constitution of the United States, and to uphold the rule of law,” Garland said.

“Today we fulfill that duty by filing the lawsuit.”

The Supreme Court, in a landmark 1973 case known as Roe v Wade, enshrined a woman’s right to an abortion, but Republican-led conservative states have sought to roll back abortion rights through legislation.

The courts have regularly blocked attempts to put restrictions on a woman’s right to an abortion but the right-leaning Supreme Court refused to block the Texas law, setting the stage for the Justice Department to intervene.

The Texas law, which went into effect on 1 September, bans abortion once a heartbeat can be detected, which usually takes place at six weeks — before many women even know they are pregnant — and makes no exceptions for rape or incest.

The “Texas Heartbeat Act” passed by Republican lawmakers in Texas allows members of the public to sue doctors who perform abortions after six weeks or anyone who facilitates the procedure.

“Thus far, the law has had its intended effect,” Garland said. “Because the statute makes it too risky for an abortion clinic to stay open, abortion providers have ceased providing services.

“This leaves women in Texas unable to exercise their constitutional rights.”

Garland criticized the provision of the Texas law that allows private citizens to bring civil suits to enforce the abortion ban and rewards them with $10,000 for a successful prosecution.

“The statute deputizes private citizens without any showing of personal connection or injury to serve as bounty hunters,” he said.

Biden last week lashed out at the Supreme Court’s refusal to block the Texas law and promised to launch a “whole-of-government effort” to overturn it.

Biden denounced the court’s 5-4 ruling on the Texas bill as “an unprecedented assault on a woman’s constitutional rights” that “insults the rule of law”.

The Democratic president pledged a “whole-of-government effort” to “see what steps the federal government can take to ensure that women in Texas have access to safe and legal abortions.”

Alexis McGill Johnson, president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, thanked Biden for “bringing the full might of the federal government to protect Texans from this dangerous and unjust law.”

“Right now patients across Texas are scared, they are confused, and they are being left with nowhere to turn to access safe, legal abortion,” she said.

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Brigitte Amiri, deputy director of the Reproductive Freedom Project at the American Civil Liberties Union, whose suit seeking to block the Texas law was rejected by the Supreme Court, also welcomed the Justice Department move.

“The Department of Justice’s lawsuit against the Texas abortion ban is welcome news,” Amiri said. “We won’t rest until everybody can exercise their right to access abortion in Texas and across this country.”

According to the ACLU, approximately 85 to 90% of the women who obtain an abortion in Texas are at least six weeks into pregnancy.

Similar laws banning abortion in the early stages of pregnancy have been passed by the legislatures of a dozen Republican-led conservative states, but all had been stymied in the courts.

The Supreme Court was shifted to the right, however, under former president Donald Trump, who named three justices, giving conservatives a 6-3 majority.

Roe v Wade guaranteed the right to an abortion in the United States so long as the fetus is not viable outside the womb, which is usually not until the 22nd to 24th week of pregnancy.

The Supreme Court is due to hear a case in the coming months involving a Mississippi law that prohibits abortions after the 15th week of pregnancy, except in cases of medical emergency or a severe fetal abnormality.

© AFP 2021

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