Justice Department files suit over Texas abortion law

WASHINGTON — Attorney General Merrick Garland on Thursday announced that the Justice Department has filed a lawsuit against Texas over a recently passed law that bars women from getting abortions past about six weeks of pregnancy.

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The Supreme Court declined a bid to block the law, which authorizes private citizens to sue abortion providers and entitles said citizens to at least $10,000 in damages if they prevail in court, in a 5-4 decision last week.

“After the Supreme Court allowed Texas Senate Bill 8 to take effect, I said that the Justice Department was evaluating all options to protect the constitutional rights of women and other persons,” Garland said Thursday at a news conference. “Today, after a careful assessment of the facts and the law, the Justice Department has filed a lawsuit against the State of Texas.”

Update 4:51 p.m. EDT Sept. 9: Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s office said it was confident the law would be upheld, according to The Dallas Morning News.

“The most precious freedom is life itself. Texas passed a law that ensures that the life of every child with a heartbeat will be spared from the ravages of abortion,” Abbott’s press secretary Renae Eze, said in a statement. “Unfortunately, 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.”

Original report: The lawsuit, filed in federal court in Texas, asks a federal judge to declare that the law is invalid, “to enjoin its enforcement, and to protect the rights that Texas has violated.”

The Texas law prohibits abortions once medical professionals can detect cardiac activity, usually around six weeks — before some women know they’re pregnant. Garland said Thursday that the law bans nearly all abortions “months before a pregnancy is viable,” even in cases of rape, sexual abuse or incest.

“The act is clearly unconstitutional under long-standing Supreme Court precedent,” he said. “Those precedents hold, in the words of Planned Parenthood vs. Casey, that quote ’Regardless 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.’”

Courts have blocked other states from imposing similar restrictions, but Texas’ law differs significantly because it leaves enforcement up to private citizens through lawsuits instead of criminal prosecutors.

“It does not rely on the state’s executive branch to enforce the law, as is the norm in Texas and everywhere else,” Garland said. “Rather, the law 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 law was plainly aimed at “thwarting judicial review for as long as possible.”

The lawsuit filed on Thursday seeks an immediate injunction to prohibit enforcing the law in Texas.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.