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US Justice Dept asks top court to suspend Texas abortion law

Allowing law to remain in effect would 'perpetuate the ongoing irreparable injury' to Texas women, Justice Dept says

Michael Hernandez   | 18.10.2021
US Justice Dept asks top court to suspend Texas abortion law


The US Justice Department sought on Monday an emergency order from the Supreme Court to halt the implementation of a Texas law that effectively bans nearly all abortions in the state to allow for court proceedings play out.

The law, which is among the most severe abortion restrictions in the US, is "clearly unconstitutional," the Justice Department wrote in its emergency application.

At issue, the department said, is whether the federal government "has authority to seek equitable relief to protect its sovereign interests -- including its interest in the supremacy of federal law and the availability of the mechanisms for judicial review that Congress and this Court have long deemed essential to protect constitutional rights.

"Allowing S.B. 8 to remain in force would irreparably harm those interests and perpetuate the ongoing irreparable injury to the thousands of Texas women who are being denied their constitutional rights," the department argued, referring to the law by its formal name: Senate Bill 8.

The law, which has been in effect since September, prohibits women from having an abortion after a fetal heartbeat can be detected, which is after about six weeks of pregnancy. Many women would not know they are pregnant in that timeframe.

Texas Republicans have sought to escape the fate of other “heartbeat bills” that have been struck down as unconstitutional by putting enforcement in the hands of citizens who can sue abortion providers or others who assist them with an abortion.

That includes people who help pay for the abortion or individuals who might transport them to a women’s health center for the procedure, including ride-share drivers. Uber and Lyft have vowed to pay their drivers’ legal fees should they be sued under the law.

District Court Judge Robert Pitman blocked the law from going into effect on Oct. 7, saying in a 113-page ruling that the state’s Republican legislators “contrived an unprecedented and transparent statutory scheme whereby it created a private cause of action in which private citizens with no personal interest in or connection to a person seeking an abortion would be able to interfere with that right using the state’s judicial system, judges, and court officials.”

Pitman's ruling, however, was overturned on Thursday evening by an appellate court that issued a stay in Pitman's ruling, allowing the law to go back into effect.

The Supreme Court gave Texas until Thursday to respond to the Justice Department's filing, according to multiple reports.

A woman’s right to an abortion was affirmed in the landmark 1973 case Roe v. Wade, which at the time struck down Texas laws that criminalized abortion.

Planned Parenthood, the US’ leading abortion rights advocacy group, hailed the ruling, but said it is “overdue,” and vowed to “continue fighting this ban in court, until we are certain that Texans’ ability to access abortion is protected.”

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