Federal justice department sues Texas over new abortion law

The Biden administration on Thursday sued Texas, in an effort to block enforcement of a new law that almost entirely bans abortion in the state.

Suit says state law banning most abortions was enacted 'in open defiance of the Constitution'

U.S. attorney general says Texas abortion law could set dangerous precedent

3 months ago
U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland says Texas does not even dispute the fact that its newly enacted abortion law is unconstitutional. 0:49

The Biden administration on Thursday sued Texas, in an effort to block enforcement of a new law that almost entirely bans abortion in the state.

Last week, the U.S. Supreme Court let stand the Texas law banning abortion after about six weeks of pregnancy, before many woman realize they are pregnant. The decision represented a major victory for social conservatives who have been trying to ban the procedure since the court's 1973 Roe v. Wade decision established the constitutional right to abortion.

U.S. President Joe Biden has warned the law would cause "unconstitutional chaos" because it relies on private citizens to enforce it by filing civil lawsuits against people who help a woman obtain an abortion after six weeks, whether it be a doctor who performs the procedure or a cabbie who drives a woman to a clinic.

Law 'clearly unconstitutional': Garland

"The obvious and expressly acknowledged intention of this statutory scheme is to prevent women from exercising their constitutional rights," U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland told a news conference. He said the law was "clearly unconstitutional."

The law allows the people who sue to receive bounties of at least $10,000 US and makes no exceptions in cases of rape or incest, although there are some very narrowly defined exemptions for the mother's health. Republican Texas Gov. Greg Abbott defended the law this week, saying that the state would "eliminate all rapists."

WATCH | Garland says all Americans should fear potential consequences of Texas abortion law: 

U.S. attorney general says Texas abortion law is unconstitutional

3 months ago
U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland warns that if the new Texas law banning most abortion is allowed to prevail, it could have dire consequences for all Americans' constitutional rights. 0:54

"The United States has the authority and responsibility to ensure that Texas cannot … deprive individuals of their constitutional rights by adopting a statutory scheme designed specifically to evade traditional mechanisms of federal judicial review," the Justice Department said in a filing in U.S. District Court in the Western District of Texas.

The Supreme Court's decision not to block the Texas law left abortion-rights activists worried that the court, on which conservatives hold a 6-3 majority, may be open to overturning Roe when it hears a case involving a Mississippi abortion ban later this year.

The action marked the second major lawsuit the Biden administration has filed this year trying to block a move by a Republican-controlled state government. The Justice Department sued Georgia in June, challenging the state's sweeping new voting law.

Anti-abortion activists stand near the gate of the Texas state capitol May 29, 2021 in Austin, Texas. The new state law outlaws abortions after a fetal heartbeat is detected. The U.S. Justice Department says it is unconstitutional. (Sergio Flores/Getty Images)

Harris to meet with abortion providers, patients

In another sign of the administration's abortion-rights push, U.S. Vice-President Kamala Harris was due to meet with abortion and reproductive health providers and patients on Thursday.

Garland earlier this week said the department would "protect those seeking to obtain or provide reproductive health services" through a 1994 law known as the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act.

The FACE Act prohibits the use of force and physical obstruction to interfere with a person obtaining or providing reproductive health services.

A pro-choice activist protests the six-week abortion ban in Austin, Sept. 1, 2021. (Jay Janner/Austin American-Statesman/The Associated Press)

Because it takes several weeks before pregnancy can even be detected on a standard urine test, the Texas law means that women there could have just a one- or two-week window to seek an abortion before being banned from doing do.

Some 85 to 90 per cent of abortion procedures take place after six weeks of pregnancy, and leaving the ban in place could cause clinics to close, abortion-rights groups warned.

But it remains a deeply polarizing issue, with a majority of Democrats supporting abortion rights and a majority of Republicans opposing them.