Courts

DOJ Asks Judge To Block Texas' Abortion Law, While Women Seeking Abortions Are Driven Out of State

U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland's Justice Department has upped the ante in its attempt to block Texas' latest abortion ban.
U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland's Justice Department has upped the ante in its attempt to block Texas' latest abortion ban. Screenshot
One sexual assault victim had to travel to Oklahoma to get the abortion now forbidden to her by the new draconian Texas abortion law that went into effect September 1.

“I provided an abortion to [a] woman from Texas who had been raped and could not get an abortion in Texas because of SB 8,” Dr. Joshua Yap from Planned Parenthood of Arkansas and Eastern Oklahoma wrote in a filing supporting the Justice's Department challenge to the Texas action.

“She was upset and furious she could not get an abortion close to home and in her own state. She had to figure out how to take extra time off from work to make the trip to Oklahoma, as well as find childcare for her children.” Yap said he already has another Texan woman who was also sexually assaulted scheduled for an abortion at their facility next week. 

Citing other cases like these in which multiple Texan rape victims have already had to travel hundreds of miles out of state to receive abortions now outlawed by the Texas GOP, U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland and President Biden’s Department of Justice have ramped up their efforts to kill Texas’ newest radical abortion ban.


In a late night emergency court filing Tuesday, the U.S. Justice Department asked a federal judge to issue a restraining order to immediately block the enforcement of Texas’ controversial “heartbeat bill” abortion law while the federal fight over its constitutionality plays out.

Signed into law by Gov. Greg Abbott back in May, Senate Bill 8 bans all abortions that take place after anti-abortion advocates claim a “fetal heartbeat” can be detected, which is typically six weeks after conception. Critics argue the "heartbeat" label is misleading, given that medical experts claim those so-called heartbeats are simply flickers of electricity in fetal tissue.

Given that most pregnant women don’t realize they’re with child until after that six-week mark, the law has effectively banned nearly all abortions in Texas since it went into effect on September 1. Across the state, many abortion providers have either shuttered their practices or have dramatically scaled back their operations, fearful of running afoul of the new law.

The law was constructed to allow for only private citizens — not government entities — to enforce the abortion ban by making any doctor who carries out an abortion after a so-called “heartbeat” is detected or any person who aids or abets someone getting such an abortion liable for a potentially endless barrage of lawsuits, and on the hook for up to $10,000 in damages per suit. Any person can sue under the law’s provisions even if they don’t reside in Texas, or even if they’ve never met the person who received such an abortion. The law includes zero exceptions for incest or rape.

After the U.S. Supreme Court refused to halt the law from going into effect in a 5-4 decision, Garland announced last week his Justice Department and the administration of President Joe Biden would do what they could to protect Texans’ right to an abortion as guaranteed by Roe v. Wade.

On September 9, Garland’s office sued the state of Texas in federal court seeking a permanent injunction to kill the allegedly unconstitutional law once and for all. Tuesday’s emergency filing represented an escalation of that same legal effort, signalling the Biden administration’s hope to prevent the law from limiting abortion access while the court battle over the law’s constitutionality continues.

Arguing that Senate Bill 8 was designed by Texas Republicans “to prevent women from exercising their constitutional rights” to receive abortions before fetal viability, the Department of Justice wrote in its filing that the law’s enforcement through enticing lawsuits with $10,000 bounties is “an unprecedented scheme that seeks to deny women and providers the ability to challenged SB 8 in federal court.”

“This attempt to shield a plainly unconstitutional law from review cannot stand,” the filing continued.

Pro-choice advocates celebrated the Justice Department’s escalation in trying to block Senate Bill 8 late Tuesday. Helene Krasnnoff, Planned Parenthood’s Vice President for Public Policy Litigation called Tuesday’s emergency filing “another welcome step toward the fight for abortion access in Texas.”

“We are grateful that the Department of Justice is bringing its full might to restoring Texans’ ability to exercise their constitutional right to abortion,” Krasnoff continued. “For two weeks now, Texans have been forced to either cross state lines for care or carry a pregnancy against their will. They need relief now.”

“We are grateful that the Department of Justice is bringing its full might to restoring Texans’ ability to exercise their constitutional right to abortion. For two weeks now, Texans have been forced to either cross state lines for care or carry a pregnancy against their will. They need relief now.” — Helene Krasnoff, Planned Parenthood VP of Public Policy Litigation

tweet this
While anti-abortion advocates across Texas have been celebrating SB 8, not all conservatives opposed to abortion across the country have embraced the creative new Texas law and its $10,000 bounty scheme.

Take Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis for example, the Donald Trump acolyte and rising GOP star whose stridently conservative policies and intentionally lax coronavirus restrictions Abbott has been accused of copying ahead of his and DeSantis’ speculated presidential runs in 2024.

Even DeSantis — a clear torch bearer for the national GOP in 2021 and no fan of abortion — is reportedly less than enthusiastic about implementing a law similar to SB 8 in the Sunshine State, according to a recent report from Buzzfeed News.

“Gov. DeSantis doesn’t want to turn private citizens against each other,” DeSantis spokeswoman Christina Pushaw told Buzzfeed News.

The Department of Justice’s full emergency filing:
KEEP THE HOUSTON PRESS FREE... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Schaefer Edwards is a staff writer at the Houston Press who covers local and regional news. A lifelong Texan and adopted Houstonian, he loves NBA basketball and devouring Tex-Mex while his cat watches in envy.
Contact: Schaefer Edwards