Oct 12, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Justice Department again urges courts to suspend Texas abortion law

People rallying in support of abortion rights in New York City on Oct. 2.
People rally in support of abortion rights in New York City on Oct. 2. Photo: Yana Paskova/Getty Images

The Department of Justice asked the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals late Monday to suspend Texas' new law that bans abortions after a fetal heartbeat is detected, or roughly six weeks — before many people know they are pregnant.

Why it matters: Medical providers in the state briefly resumed performing abortions last week after a federal judge ruled that the law was unconstitutional, though it was temporarily reinstated by the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

How it works: Texas' law is the most restrictive abortion law to be enforced since the Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade decision legalized abortion nationwide in 1973.

  • It bans abortions after cardiac activity is detected, and it allows and encourages private citizens to enforce the law by suing anyone who assists pregnant people with getting the procedure.
  • The Supreme Court allowed the law to go in effect by a 5-4 vote in September in part because of unresolved questions around what Chief Justice John Roberts described as the law's "unusual" and "unprecedented" statutory arrangement.
  • The Supreme Court has not ruled on the constitutionality of the law.

What they're saying: The Justice Department, which sued Texas over the law in September, argued Tuesday that if the law is upheld, states could violate any right provided they left enforcement up to private citizens and not the state itself.

  • “If Texas’s scheme is permissible, no constitutional right is safe from state-sanctioned sabotage of this kind,” the Justice Department told the appeals court.
  • "A stay would prolong [the law's] substantial harm to the United States’ sovereign interests and would disserve the public interest," the department added.

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