The Justice Department on Thursday announced it is suing Texas over the state’s near-total ban on abortion, condemning the new law for being “in open defiance of the Constitution.”
The move comes just over a week after the ban, known as SB 8, went into effect, sparking intense backlash from abortion rights advocates across the country, as well as fears that the constitutional right to an abortion is now under direct threat after the Supreme Court refused to intervene in an emergency appeal to block the extreme law.
In a statement Monday, Attorney General Merrick Garland vowed to protect people seeking to obtain an abortion in Texas and warned that the physical destruction of abortion clinics would not be tolerated—a likely reference to SB 8’s empowerment of private citizens to sue individuals they believe have “aided or abetted” abortions and receive up to $10,000 in compensation for their efforts. President Biden on Friday criticized this specific aspect of the new law, which many warn could lead to a whole new level of harassment against abortion providers, calling it “almost un-American.”
But while abortion rights groups are likely to welcome the Biden administration’s legal challenge today, it remains unclear how effective such an action will be in blocking the Texas ban. From the Washington Post:
Opponents of the Texas law argue it is unconstitutional on multiple levels, but it is constructed in such a way that makes legal challenges difficult. The measure empowers individuals, rather than the government, to enforce it for a potential $10,000 payout if they can win a civil suit.
The Supreme Court allowed the law to take effect earlier this month, and opponents have said abortion providers appeared so far to be complying to avoid civil liability. Eventually, it is possible someone will defy the ban and get sued, creating a case to test its constitutionality.
Some Democrats instead have urged the Justice Department to go one step further and criminally prosecute individuals who under the new law sue people seeking an abortion.