Current Events

Justice Department Sues Texas Over Its New Restrictive Abortion Law

U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland is coming for Texas.
U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland is coming for Texas. Screenshot

Saying Texas was seeking to circumvent federal law and the constitutional rights of women, the U.S. Department of Justice Thursday filed suit in Austin against the state over its new "heartbeat" bill that bans abortions at about 6 weeks of pregnancy and turns private citizens into "bounty hunters."

The result of Senate Bill 8 has been, in effect, to halt virtually all abortions in the state. Anyone who knows of an abortion taking place can sue all those involved for $10,000 in civil damages including the providers as well as anyone helping a woman obtain an abortion. There are no exceptions for rape or incest.

Leading Republicans including Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick successfully pushed for the law in the Republican-heavy state House and Senate. An appeal went to the U.S. Supreme Court which in a 5-4 vote chose not to hear the case, meaning it went into effect September 1.

In his dissent, Chief Justice John Roberts said the state has  “essentially delegated enforcement of that prohibition to the populace at large. The desired consequence appears to be to insulate the State from responsibility for implementing and enforcing the regulatory regime.”

U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland, whose department is seeking a permanent injunction against the Texas law,  made the announcement at a press conference, calling the new law's provisions a violation of the national FACE (Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances) Act which:

"Prohibits the use or threat of force and physical obstruction that injures, intimidates, or interferes with a person seeking to obtain or provide reproductive health services. It also prohibits intentional property damage of a facility providing reproductive health services. The department has consistently obtained criminal and civil remedies for violations of the FACE Act since it was signed into law in 1994, and it will continue to do so now.

“The department will provide support from federal law enforcement when an abortion clinic or reproductive health center is under attack. We have reached out to U.S. Attorneys’ Offices and FBI field offices in Texas and across the country to discuss our enforcement authorities.

“We will not tolerate violence against those seeking to obtain or provide reproductive health services, physical obstruction or property damage in violation of the FACE Act.”

Texas Democratic Party Co-Executive Director Hannah Roe Beck issued a written statement applauding the Justice Department action. "This dystopian abortion ban is uniquely harmful, exceptionally cruel, and blatantly unconstitutional. It targets millions of Texans — especially working people, Texans of color, and folks in rural communities. Today, our federal government stepped up to put a stop to it."
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Margaret Downing is the editor-in-chief who oversees the Houston Press newsroom and its online publication. She frequently writes on a wide range of subjects.
Contact: Margaret Downing