Law & the Courts

Biden Administration Sues Texas over Heartbeat Abortion Law

U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland attends a news conference at the Department of Justice in Washington, D.C., June 25, 2021. (Ken Cedeno/Reuters)

The Biden administration filed a lawsuit on Thursday against Texas over the Lone Star State’s new law allowing private citizens to sue providers that perform abortions after a fetal heartbeat can be detected.

The Department of Justice (DOJ) is arguing that the Texas law is unconstitutional.

“It is settled constitutional law that ‘a state may not prohibit any woman from making the ultimate decision to terminate her pregnancy before viability,’ but Texas has done just that,” asserted the lawsuit.

The DOJ adds that Texas implemented its law “in open defiance of the Constitution.”

The move comes just days after Attorney General Merrick Garland said the department was weighing options to take action after the Supreme Court declined to enjoin the law in a 5–4 decision last week.

The controversial legislation allows any individual to sue medical providers who perform an abortion after a fetal heartbeat has been detected. Plaintiffs can earn up to $10,000 in damages through litigation.

Garland announced the suit in a press conference on Thursday, saying, “Our position is set out in detail in our complaint. Its basis is as follows: S.B. 8 bans nearly all abortions in the state after six weeks of pregnancy — before many women even know they are pregnant and months before a pregnancy is viable. It does so even in cases of rape, sexual abuse or incest.”

The attorney general added that the “further risk” with the Texas law is that other state will “follow similar models with respect to not only this constitutional right but theoretically against any constitutional right.”

“If another state uses the same kind of provisions to deprive its citizens of their constitutional rights and, in particular, to deprive their citizens of the ability to seek immediate review, we will bring the same kind of lawsuit,” he added.

He also rejected the suggestion that the lawsuit came as a result of pressure from Democratic lawmakers, abortion groups, and the White House.

“The Department of Justice does not file lawsuits based on pressure,” he said. “We carefully evaluated the law and the facts and this complaint expresses our view about the law and the facts.”

President Biden has vowed to take a “whole-of-government” response to the Texas law, telling reporters last week that he had consulted with the Justice Department regarding methods to blunt its enforcement.

“The most pernicious thing about the Texas law is it creates a sort of vigilante system where people get rewards to go out to—anyway,” said Biden. 

“I was told there are possibilities within the existing law to have the Justice Department look and see whether there are things that can be done that can limit the independent action of individuals in enforcing a state law,” Biden claimed at the time. “I don’t know enough to give you an answer yet, I have asked that to be checked,” he added.

Meanwhile, a recent survey from Rasmussen Reports has found that a plurality of Americans supports the Texas law.

The poll, which surveyed 1,000 likely voters nationwide on September 5 and September 6, found that 46 percent of respondents supported the measure. Forty-three percent oppose the law, while 11 percent remain undecided on the question.

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