The Department of Justice will step in to “protect” clinics providing abortions in Texas considered illegal under state law.
Attorney General Merrick Garland issued a statement on Monday threatening federal action to stop enforcement of Texas’ new law that bans most abortions after cardiac activity can be detected in the womb. Garland also said his department was investigating other legal options to challenge the law.
“While the Justice Department urgently explores all options to challenge Texas SB8 in order to protect the constitutional rights of women and other persons, including access to an abortion, we will continue to protect those seeking to obtain or provide reproductive health services pursuant to our criminal and civil enforcement of the FACE Act, 18 U.S.C. § 248,” Garland said.
“The FACE Act prohibits the use or threat of force and physical obstruction that injures, intimidates, or interferes with a person seeking to obtain or provide reproductive health services. It also prohibits intentional property damage of a facility providing reproductive health services,” he continued. “The department has consistently obtained criminal and civil remedies for violations of the FACE Act since it was signed into law in 1994, and it will continue to do so now.”
“The department will provide support from federal law enforcement when an abortion clinic or reproductive health center is under attack. We have reached out to U.S. Attorneys’ Offices and FBI field offices in Texas and across the country to discuss our enforcement authorities,” Garland added. “We will not tolerate violence against those seeking to obtain or provide reproductive health services, physical obstruction or property damage in violation of the FACE Act.”
Texas’ new abortion law, known as a “heartbeat” bill after its ban on abortions after a child’s cardiac activity can be detected, went into effect at the first of the month. The Supreme Court rejected a petition by abortion providers in the state to issue a stay on the law, a notable victory for pro-life advocates. No similar law enacted in other states has made it past such a challenge.
The Supreme Court did not step in to block the Texas law because of its unique enforcement mechanism that deputizes private citizens to sue clinics and those caught aiding and abetting illegal abortions.
“It is unclear whether the named defendants in this lawsuit can or will seek to enforce the Texas law against the applicants in a manner that might permit our intervention,” the court’s decision states. The challenge to the Texas law listed every state court judge and clerk as defendants.
“The State has represented that neither it nor its executive employees possess the authority to enforce the Texas law either directly or indirectly. Nor is it clear whether, under existing precedent, this Court can issue an injunction against state judges asked to decide a lawsuit under Texas’s law,” the court added.
The court emphasized that its ruling was not on the constitutionality of the law, but that it was allowing Texas to move forward with the measures based on procedural grounds.