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DoJ Seeks Emergency Court Order Blocking Texas Anti-Abortion Law

Sept. 15, 2021, 3:06 AM

The U.S. Justice Department asked for an emergency court order to block a restrictive anti-abortion law in Texas, the first of what is likely to be an extended legal battle that reaches all the way to the Supreme Court.

The 47-page request, filed in federal court in Austin late Tuesday, seeks a temporary restraining order or preliminary injunction halting enforcement of the law, known as Texas Senate Bill 8, which bars almost all abortions after the sixth week of pregnancy, before many women know they are pregnant.

The law deputizes citizens to sue people who perform or aid in the procedure, allowing them to collect at least $10,000 and legal fees if they succeed in court. By leaving it to individuals to enforce the law, Texas government officials sought to avoid lawsuits directed at them.

“Although S.B. 8 was designed to create jurisdictional obstacles to the ability of women and providers to sue to protect their rights, those obstacles do not impede the relief sought through this suit -- an action brought by the United States against the State of Texas itself,” the U.S. government said in Tuesday’s filing.

“The United States has the authority and responsibility to ensure that Texas cannot insulate itself from judicial review for its constitutional violations and to protect the important federal interests that S.B. 8 impairs.”

The move comes as the Justice Department is facing mounting pressure to take action from President Joe Biden, congressional Democrats and advocates for women’s reproductive rights. At the same time, other states that are, like Texas, led by Republicans have expressed interest in adapting their own versions of S.B. 8.

How Texas Abortion Law Turns Public Into Enforcers: QuickTake

The Justice Department said the law is already having an adverse affect on women in Texas, as well as on abortion providers in neighboring states.

“Not only has S.B. 8 imperiled the rights of Texas residents; it has had an extreme impact on the rights of women in other states, including in Oklahoma, Kansas, Colorado, Nevada, and New Mexico,” according to the motion.

Since S.B. 8 took effect, clinics in Tulsa and Oklahoma City have “seen an overall staggering 646% increase of Texan patients” as compared to the first six months of the year, the department said.

The Supreme Court refused earlier this month to block the measure, as requested by abortion providers in Texas, while it’s challenged in lower courts.

The Justice Department filed a lawsuit against Texas last week over the law.

“The act is clearly unconstitutional under longstanding Supreme Court precedent,” Attorney General Merrick Garland said at a news conference. Garland called the law an “unprecedented scheme” using “bounty hunters.”

The case is: U.S. v. State of Texas, 21-cv-00796, U.S. District Court, Western District of Texas (Austin)

To contact the reporter on this story:
Chris Strohm in Washington at cstrohm1@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story:
Bill Faries at wfaries@bloomberg.net

Joe Schneider, John Harney

© 2021 Bloomberg L.P. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

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