Attorney General Merrick Garland on Monday vowed to “protect” women seeking abortions in Texas, days after a new state law went into effect aiming to prohibit most abortions after six weeks.
While the Justice Department “urgently explores all options to challenge” Texas’ new law and “protect the constitutional rights of women and other persons, including access to an abortion,” the agency will enforce a 1994 law prohibiting the obstruction of abortion clinics, Garland said in a Sept. 6 statement.
“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,” Garland wrote.
Texas’ new “heartbeat” law does not allow physical intimidation or harm against women seeking abortions. Rather, the law allows for private citizens to sue over abortions performed after the detection of a fetal heartbeat – which can occur as early as six weeks gestation.
Citizens may take legal action against those performing or assisting in illegal abortions, including against those providing financial assistance. However, those who impregnated the women undergoing abortion through “rape, sexual assault, incest, or any other act” may not bring a lawsuit.
The law allows for at least $10,000 in damages in successful lawsuits. Women seeking abortions cannot be sued under the new law.
Last Wednesday, a Supreme Court majority ruled that the abortion providers challenging the Texas “heartbeat” law had not made a sufficient case for relief from it, and declined to block the law in a 5-4 decision.
The court majority emphasized that it was not judging the constitutionality of the law itself, but rather the case for relief from the law.
In response, President Joe Biden – a Catholic – directed his administration to examine “what steps the Federal Government can take to ensure that women in Texas have access to safe and legal abortions.”
Biden said he was directing his White House Gender Policy Council, as well as the White House counsel, “to launch a whole-of-government effort to respond to this decision,” reviewing “what legal tools we have to insulate women and providers from the impact of Texas’ bizarre scheme of outsourced enforcement to private parties.”
In recent weeks, the pro-abortion groups suing over the law, represented by the Center for Reproductive Rights, had failed to successfully block the law in the lower courts. Among the groups challenging the law is the Massachusetts-based Satanic Temple,
Texas Right to Life’s website, which included a link soliciting tips on alleged illegal abortions, was reportedly flooded with fake tips, spam and pornography last week before hosting site GoDaddy shut it down for allegedly violating its terms of service. The pro-life organization has since moved its site to another host, the group said; the website, prolifewhistleblower.com, now redirects to the group’s main page.
As the new law went into effect, pro-life groups said they were ready to assist women facing unexpected pregnancies.
“NIFLA’s network of more than 1,600 pregnancy centers and medical clinics stands at the ready to help mothers and babies in a post-Roe America. We are here to empower the choice of life,” said Thomas Glessner, president of National Institute of Family and Life Advocates. The group provides legal counsel, education, and training to more than 1,600 pregnancy centers nationwide.
Image caption: Attorney General Merrick Garland/ Justice Department (via CNA)
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