US Justice Dept asks Supreme Court to block Texas abortion law
Oct 19, 2021 - 12:43 PM
WASHINGTON — US President Joe Biden’s administration, in the latest move in the battle over reproductive rights, asked the Supreme Court on Monday to block a Texas law that bans most abortions in the state.
The Texas law is “clearly unconstitutional” and violates the landmark 1973 Supreme Court ruling in Roe v. Wade, which enshrined a woman’s legal right to an abortion, the Justice Department said.
Allowing the Texas law to remain in force would “perpetuate the ongoing irreparable injury to the thousands of Texas women who are being denied their constitutional rights,” the department said in its request to the nation’s highest court.
The Justice Department filing is the latest legal maneuver in the fight over the controversial Texas law known as Senate Bill 8 (SB8), which bans abortions after six weeks, before many women even know they are pregnant.
Calling it “flagrantly unconstitutional,” US District Judge Robert Pitman issued a preliminary injunction earlier this month halting enforcement of the Texas law, which took effect on September 1.
“This court will not sanction one more day of this offensive deprivation of such an important right,” Pitman said in a blistering decision.
Days later, however, the New Orleans-based Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals reinstated the Texas law pending a full hearing in December.
In its filing on Monday, the Justice Department asked the Supreme Court to vacate the appeals court decision.
The conservative-leaning Supreme Court last month cited procedural issues when it decided by a 5-4 vote against intervening to block the Texas law, which makes no exceptions for rape or incest.
It did not rule on the merits of the case brought by abortion providers.
‘Texas Heartbeat Act’
The “Texas Heartbeat Act” allows members of the public to sue doctors who perform abortions, or anyone who helps facilitate them, once a heartbeat is detected in the womb, which usually occurs at around six weeks.
They can be rewarded with $10,000 for initiating cases that lead to prosecution, prompting charges that the law encourages people to act as vigilantes.
The Texas law is part of a broader conservative drive to restrict abortions across the United States that has prompted a public backlash.
Laws restricting abortion have been passed in other Republican-led states but were struck down by the courts because they violated Roe v. Wade, which guaranteed a woman’s right to an abortion until the fetus is viable outside the womb, which is typically around 22 to 24 weeks.
The Supreme Court is to hear a challenge on December 1 to a Mississippi law that bans nearly all abortions after the 15th week of pregnancy.
It will be the first abortion case argued before the court since the nomination of three justices by former Republican president Donald Trump, giving conservatives a 6-3 majority on the panel.
Advocates of a woman’s right to terminate a pregnancy have called on Congress to enshrine the right to an abortion in federal law to protect it from any possible reversal by the Supreme Court.
A bill to that effect was adopted recently in the Democratic majority House of Representatives, but has no chance of passing the Senate, where Republicans have enough votes to block it.