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US Department of Justice Asks Federal Judge to Bar the Controversial Law on Abortions in Texas

© AP Photo / Jacquelyn MartinPresident of Planned Parenthood Leana Wen speaks during a protest against abortion bans
President of Planned Parenthood Leana Wen speaks during a protest against abortion bans - Sputnik International, 1920, 15.09.2021
The development comes several days after the agency filed a lawsuit to challenge a decision by local authorities to introduce legislation that President Joe Biden described as an "unprecedented assault" on women's rights. Proponents of the bill, which include Texas Governor Greg Abbott, say it will save millions of lives.
The US Department of Justice has asked Judge Robert L. Pitman of the Western District of Texas to block the state's law on abortions from enactment. In an emergency motion filed late on Tuesday, the department argued that Senate Bill 8 (SB8), violates the landmark Supreme Court ruling in Roe vs Wade, which effectively legalised abortion in the United States.

"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. Texas enacted S.B.8 in open defiance of the Constitution. [Preventing the enactment of the law ] is necessary to protect the constitutional rights of women in Texas and the sovereign interest of the United States", reads the DOJ motion.

The request is the latest salvo in the ongoing battle between the Biden administration and the Lone Star State. At the beginning of September, the US Supreme Court, the country's top court, refused to block the legislation in a 5-4 ruling, while stopping short of voicing a decision on the bill's constitutionality.

Why Has the Law Provoked Such Opposition?

Critics argue that the SB8, also known as the Texas Heartbeat Act, effectively bans all abortions in Texas. The legislation prohibits doctors performing the procedures as early as six weeks and requires them to check for a foetal heartbeat and if one is detected then the abortion is banned. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists said the law's wording is misleading, noting that at such an early stage of pregnancy doctors detect a portion of a tissue "that will become the heart as the embryo develops".

SB8 allows doctors to perform the procedure if they believe that a medical emergency exists, but does not allow terminations in the case of rape or incest.

Another thing that worries opponents of the bill is that ordinary citizens and not the authorities will ensure that other individuals adhere to it and that civil lawsuits rather criminal prosecution will be used to "punish" potential perpetrators.

Essentially, this means that any individual or organisation, who "aids or abets" or "intends" to aid or abet a woman in receiving an abortion can be sued by Texas residents or those living outside of the state. Even a taxi driver, who drives a woman to a hospital can be held accountable.
Several US companies, including Uber and Lyft, have criticised the legislation and said they will cover all legal fees of their employees if they are sued under SB8.

The plaintiffs, who don't have to be related to the woman who underwent an abortion, may get at least $10,000 if they win the case, while those found guilty may face fines in the same amount.

"Every citizen is now a private attorney general. You can have random people who are against abortion start suing tomorrow", Josh Blackman, a constitutional law professor at South Texas College of Law Houston, said back in May when the Texas governor signed the bill into law.

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