Department of Justice sues Texas over abortion law: ‘Clearly unconstitutional’

The Department of Justice (DOJ) has filed a lawsuit against the state of Texas over its new law outlawing abortions after six weeks of pregnancy, Attorney General Merrick Garland announced Thursday. 

The Texas Heartbeat Act, or S.B. 8, signed by Republican Gov. Greg Abbott in May, prohibits all abortions once a fetal heartbeat can be detected, usually around six weeks, and also gives individuals the right to sue abortion clinics or those who help women get abortions in the state.

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Garland, joined by Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco and Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta, said during a Thursday press briefing that the law is “clearly unconstitutional under longstanding Supreme Court precedent.”

“It does not rely on the state’s executive branch to enforce the law, as is the norm in Texas and everywhere else,” he said. “Rather, the statute deputizes all private citizens, without any showing of personal connection or injury, to serve as bounty hunters, authorized to recover at least $10,000 per claim from individuals who facilitate a women’s exercise of her constitutional rights.”

“The obvious and expressly acknowledged intention of this statutory scheme is to prevent women from exercising their constitutional rights by thwarting judicial review for as long as possible,” said Garland.

Garland warned that the Texas law “may become a model” for similar action in other states, and said to imagine “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.”

Texas Governor Greg Abbott’s press secretary Renae Eze responded to the lawsuit in a statement accusing the Biden administration of trying to deflect from its widely criticized Afghanistan withdrawal.

“The most precious freedom is life itself,” Eze said. “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 news comes just days after Garland said the department was “urgently” exploring “all options to challenge Texas S.B. 8 in order to protect the constitutional rights of women… including access to an abortion.”

The Supreme Court ruled last week in a 5-4 decision that the law could remain in effect. 

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton also responded to DOJ’s lawsuit, saying that the administration should be focusing instead on other ongoing crises.

“Today the Biden Administration sued every individual in Texas. Biden should focus on fixing the border crisis, Afghanistan, the economy and countless other disasters instead of meddling in state’s sovereign rights. I will use every available resource to fight for life,” said Paxton.

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President Biden slammed the Supreme Court’s decision last week as an “unprecedented assault on a woman’s constitutional rights,” noting that while it was not a “final ruling,” the decision required “an immediate response.” 

The president said he was directing his Gender Policy Council and the Office of the White House Counsel to launch “a whole-of-government effort to respond to this decision,” looking specifically to the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Justice to “see what steps the federal government can take to ensure that women in Texas have access to safe and legal abortions as protected by Roe, and what legal tools we have to insulate women and providers from the impact of Texas’ bizarre scheme of outsourced enforcement to private parties.”

Fox News’ Jake Gibson and Brooke Singman contributed reporting.

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