Tulsa World

Feds sue Texas over abortion law

- MICHAEL BALSAMO AND PAUL WEBER

AUSTIN, Texas — 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 argues the law unlawfully infringes on the constituti­onal rights of women and violates the Supremacy Clause of the Constituti­on, which says federal law supersedes state law. Federal officials are also concerned other states could enact similar laws that would “deprive their citizens of their constituti­onal rights,” he said.

“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 lawsuit reads. “But Texas has done just that.”

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 lawsuit filed on Thursday seeks an immediate injunction to prohibit enforcing the law in Texas. Under the statute, someone could bring a lawsuit — even if they have no connection to the woman getting an abortion — and could be entitled to at least $10,000 in damages if they prevail in court.

“The statute 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,” Garland said. “The obvious and expressly acknowledg­ed intention of this statutory scheme is to prevent women from exercising their constituti­onal rights by thwarting judicial review.”

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