The Justice Department is suing Texas over the state’s new controversial restrictions on abortions after six weeks of pregnancy, Attorney General Merrick Garland announced Thursday.
Garland said the law is plainly improper both for its onerous restrictions on abortion access and for the provisions allowing state residents to sue anyone who aids or carries out restricted abortions.
“The act is clearly unconstitutional under longstanding Supreme Court precedent,” Garland said at a press conference.
“This kind of scheme to nullify the Constitution of the United States is one that all Americans, whatever their politics or party, should fear,” Garland said.
“If it prevails, it may become a model for action in other areas by other states and with respect to other constitutional rights and judicial precedents. nor need one think long or hard to realize the damage that would be done to our society if states were allowed to implement laws that empower any private individual to infringe on another’s constitutionally protected rights in this way,” he added.
The move comes a week after the Supreme Court refused to block the state law, which would effectively ban most abortions, in a 5-4 ruling over the objections of the court’s liberal wing and the Chief Justice John Roberts. The law went into effect on Sept. 1.
The lawsuit was filed Thursday afternoon in federal district court in Texas.
“The United States has the authority and responsibility to ensure that Texas cannot evade its obligations under the Constitution and deprive individuals of their constitutional rights by adopting a statutory scheme designed specifically to evade traditional mechanisms of federal judicial review,” the lawsuit reads.
“The federal government therefore brings this suit directly against the State of Texas to obtain a declaration that S.B. 8 is invalid, to enjoin its enforcement, and to protect the rights that Texas has violated.”
A spokeswoman for Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) dismissed the legal challenge as a political ploy.
“The most precious freedom is life itself,” said the governor’s press secretary Renae Eze in an emailed statement.
“Texas passed a law that ensures that the life of every child with a heartbeat will be spared from the ravages of abortion. Unfortunately, President Biden and his Administration are more interested in changing the national narrative from their disastrous Afghanistan evacuation and reckless open border policies instead of protecting the innocent unborn. We are confident that the courts will uphold and protect that right to life,” the statement said.
Under the law, the abortion restrictions are enforced through civil litigation brought by private parties, who can be awarded up to $10,000 if their case is successful. That scheme creates liability not only for doctors and medical personnel who perform abortions but also for anyone who so much as drives a patient to obtain a restricted abortion.
That enforcement scheme also creates legal hurdles in court for those seeking to challenge the law, making it difficult to determine the correct parties to sue in order to block the law.
The administration’s lawsuit asks for a court order nullifying the statute and prohibiting the state’s officials and even private citizens from “implementing or enforcing” the law.
The Supreme Court’s ruling last week incensed the Democratic Party and reproductive rights activists, with some warning that it had effectively overturned the court’s landmark Roe v. Wade decision that found that women have a constitutionally protected right to obtain an abortion without excessive restrictions.
It also raised fears that Texas’s success at the Supreme Court would open the door for a slew of Republican-controlled state legislatures to impose similar restrictions across the country.
“If another state uses the same kind of provisions to deprive its citizens of their constitutional rights … we will bring the same kind of lawsuit,” Garland said on Thursday.