On Thursday, Sept. 9, the Justice Department filed suit against Texas to block the sweeping abortion law that had gone into effect at the beginning of this month.
“The act is clearly unconstitutional under long-standing Supreme Court precedent,” Attorney General Merrick Garland said at a news conference, according to the Associated Press.
The law, Senate Bill 8, or more commonly known as the Texas Heartbeat Act, aims to prohibit most abortions after six weeks into pregnancy, or typically when a fetal heartbeat can be detected.
Despite an outcry from abortion providers, the Supreme Court voted to let the ban stay while legal challenges are heard in the lower court.
Opponents of the ban had argued that six weeks is usually too early for most women even to realize that they are carrying a child.
Earlier this week, Garland had reiterated the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act (FACE Act), a federal law that prohibits attempts to block access to abortion clinics or damage the facilities.
In the lawsuit, the Justice Department said following the Constitution’s Supremacy Clause; Texas could not override federal law on facilitating abortion access.
“It is settled constitutional law that ‘a State may not prohibit any woman from making the ultimate decision to terminate her pregnancy before viability,’” the plaintiff reads. “But Texas has done just that.”
In enforcing the ban, Texas Heartbeat Act allows private citizens to file $10,000 lawsuits against any services that help a woman seeking an abortion.
Garland translates such measures into making people “bounty hunters” for targeting those helping women with their “constitutional rights.”
“The obvious and expressly acknowledged intention of this statutory scheme is to prevent women from exercising their constitutional rights by thwarting judicial review,” the attorney general alleged.
He claimed that the Texas law might expose some federal employees working for various government agencies to civil liability for doing their jobs.
Responding to the lawsuit, Renae Eze, spokesperson for Texas Governor Greg Abbott, was optimistic that the courts would support the abortion bill.
“The most precious freedom is life itself,” Eze said. “Texas passed a law that ensures that the life of every child with a heartbeat will be spared from the ravages of abortion.”
The bill leaves exemptions for emergencies but not for cases of rape and incest. When stressed on the issue with rapists, Texas Governor Greg Abbott (R) said he would eliminate such crime in his state.
“It [the Heartbeat Act] allows six weeks for a person to be able to get an abortion,” Abbott said. “Rape is a crime, and Texas will work tirelessly to make sure that we eliminate all rapists from the streets of Texas by aggressively going out and arresting them and prosecuting them and getting them off the streets.”
Supporters of the law had praised that it could save more unborn babies from being killed.
“The Legislature and Governor prioritized this historic legislation, and with his signature, approximately 50,000 precious human lives will be saved in Texas next year alone!” said Chelsey Youman, with Human Coalition Action, an anti-abortion organization when Abbott signed the bill into law in May.
According to state records, over 56,600 abortions were performed on Texas residents in 2019, with the majority occurring in the first trimester.