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U.S. Justice Department sues Texas over new abortion law

Texas Governor Greg Abbott and U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland.
Texas Governor Greg Abbott and U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland.(Associated Press Photos)
Published: Sep. 9, 2021 at 2:27 PM CDT
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AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — The Justice Department on Thursday sued Texas over a new state law that bans most abortions, arguing that it was enacted “in open defiance of the Constitution.”

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 act is clearly unconstitutional under long-standing Supreme Court precedent,” Attorney General Merrick Garland said at a news conference announcing the suit. The Justice Department is also concerned other states could enact similar laws that he said would “deprive their citizens of their constitutional rights.”

The Texas law, known as SB8, prohibits abortions once medical professionals can detect cardiac activity — usually around six weeks, before some women know they’re pregnant. Courts have blocked other states from imposing similar restrictions, but Texas’ law differs significantly because it leaves enforcement to private citizens through civil lawsuits instead of criminal prosecutors.

Pressure had been mounting on the Justice Department not only from the White House – President Joe Biden has said the law is “almost un-American” – but also from Democrats in Congress, who wanted Garland to take action. Earlier this week, Garland vowed the Justice Department would step in to enforce a federal law known as the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act.

That law, commonly known as the FACE Act, normally prohibits physically obstructing access to abortion clinics by blocking entrances or threatening to use force to intimidate or interfere with someone. It also prohibits damaging property at abortion clinics and other reproductive health centers.

The Texas law is the nation’s biggest curb to abortion since the Supreme Court affirmed in the landmark 1973 decision Roe v. Wade that women have a constitutional right to an abortion.

Abortion providers have said they will comply, but already some of Texas’ roughly two dozen abortion clinics have temporarily stopped offering abortion services altogether. Clinics in neighboring states, meanwhile, have seen a surge in patients from Texas.

Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.