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Biden's Justice Department again presses appeals court to halt Texas abortion law

Attorney General Merrick Garland
Posted at 4:59 AM, Oct 12, 2021

The Biden administration is again urging courts to step in and suspend a new Texas law that has banned most abortions in the state since early September.

The Justice Department on Monday night asked an appeals court to block the law and allow abortions to resume in the state. The request came as clinics in Oklahoma, Louisiana and other states remain busy, with Texas patients journeying hundreds of miles away to get care.

Last week, a federal judge briefly blocked the law for a brief 48-hour window, but it was quickly reinstated upon appeal.

The coming days could prove crucial for the future of the legislation and women seeking urgent reproductive care, as courts decide whether to keep the law in place while its legality is sorted out.

The Texas law, SB8, is the most restrictive anti-abortion law that's gone into effect since the Supreme Court granted women the Constitutional right to an abortion in Roe v. Wade. The law bans all abortions after a fetal heartbeat is detected, which typically occurs around the sixth week of pregnancy — before many women even know they're pregnant.

However, SB8 specifically bans executive branch officials from enforcing the law. Instead, it deputizes private citizens and incentivizes them to sue anyone who conducts or assists in providing a woman with an illegal abortion. Those who successfully sue can win $10,000 and face few consequences if losing a lawsuit.

By putting the onus of enforcement on private citizens, SB8 has mostly been able to evade suspension from appeals courts. On Monday, the Justice Department claimed that if the law stays in place, it could provide a blueprint for other states to restrict Constitutional rights.

"If Texas's scheme is permissible, no constitutional right is safe from state-sanctioned sabotage of this kind," the Justice Department told the appeals court.

In wording that seemed to be a message to the Supreme Court, the Justice Department raised the specter that if allowed to stand, the legal structure created in enacting the law could be used to circumvent even the Supreme Court's rulings in 2008 and 2010 on gun rights and campaign financing.