The Department of Justice filed an emergency motion Tuesday demanding that a federal judge issue an order halting Texas’ “heartbeat” law, which effectively outlaws abortion after fetal cardiac activity can be detected, around six weeks of pregnancy.
The DOJ has already filed suit against the law in Texas court. Ahead of the law going into effect at the beginning of September, several other potential plaintiffs filed for an emergency stay against the law, but both a lower federal court and the Supreme Court refused to stop the Texas law, with both suggesting that the plaintiffs requesting the stay had yet to suffer particular harm, giving them standing to bring suit.
Attorney General Merrick Garland responded to the Supreme Court’s decision not to act by demanding that the United States government get involved, and vowing to “protect those seeking to obtain or provide reproductive health services.” The Biden administration, Garland pledged, would “not tolerate violence against those seeking to obtain or provide reproductive health services.”
“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 said in a statement.
Shortly thereafter, the DOJ filed suit against the law, claiming that Texas “enacted S.B. 8 [the heartbeat law] in open defiance of the Constitution,” that Texas “adopted an unprecedented scheme ‘to insulate the State from responsibility,’” by empowering its citizens to bring suit against abortion providers.
“It takes little imagination to discern Texas’s goal — to make it too risky for an abortion clinic to operate in the State, thereby preventing women throughout Texas from exercising their constitutional rights, while simultaneously thwarting judicial review,” the DOJ argued in its initial brief. “The United States, therefore, seeks a declaratory judgment that S.B. 8 is invalid.”
The first filing argued for a preliminary injunction against the state of Texas, “including its officers, employees, and agents,” and “including private parties who would bring suit under the law, from implementing or enforcing S.B. 8.”
The emergency injunction, filed Tuesday, claimed that “a State may not prohibit any woman from making the ultimate decision to terminate her pregnancy before viability,” and again claimed that Texas implemented “an unprecedented scheme that seeks to deny women and providers the ability to challenge S.B. 8 in federal court. This attempt to shield a plainly unconstitutional law from review cannot stand.”
“This relief is necessary to protect the constitutional rights of women in Texas and the sovereign interest of the United States,” the brief claims.
In one Texas county, a judge sided with abortion providers and has already stayed the law, issuing a temporary restraining order (TRO) against Texas Right to Life on behalf of Planned Parenthood, after Planned Parenthood argued that “the law has drastically harmed them already and will do more harm if it is not enjoined” and that “Texas Right to Life and those involved in the organization have already announced their plans to bring litigation against them, prompting the clinics to preemptively petition for injunctive relief against such suits.”
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