United States: Department of Justice seeks order to block Texas abortion law

The Department of Justice asked a federal judge on Tuesday to issue a temporary restraining order to block enforcement of a controversial Texas law that bars abortions after about six weeks of pregnancy.

Government lawyers argued the law has “gravely and irreparably impaired women’s ability to exercise their constitutional right to an abortion across the State.”

The legal brief comes after the Biden administration filed suit against the state last week asserting that the law was passed in “open defiance of the Constitution.” Now government lawyers are seeking to halt the law while the legal challenge plays out.

The request could move quickly through the courts, ultimately landing at the Supreme Court and could determine whether clinics in the state can once again perform abortions after six weeks as both sides present their legal arguments over the coming months.

It comes as the Supreme Court is set to take up a case concerning a Mississippi’s 15-week ban sometime in late fall or early winter.

Earlier this month a 5-4 Supreme Court verdict allowed the Texas law to remain in effect in a separate legal challenge. Under the law, abortion is prohibited when a fetal heartbeat is detected, which is often before a woman knows she is pregnant. There is no exception for rape or incest, although there is an exemption for “medical emergencies.”

In passing the law, the Texas Legislature adopted a novel legal strategy blocking Texas officials from enforcing the law, instead allowing private citizens to bring a civil suit against anyone who assists a pregnant person seeking an abortion in violation of the law.

Supporters of abortion rights have praised the government for stepping in.

“We are thrilled that the federal government is acting with a sense of urgency to restore access to safe abortion care throughout Texas and prevent further violations of pregnant Texans’ constitutional rights,” said Stephanie Toti, an attorney for the Lawyering Project, a nonprofit legal organization that represents abortion funds and practical support networks.

After the Supreme Court allowed the law to go into effect, Texas Republican Gov. Greg Abbott tweeted that “starting today, every unborn child with a heartbeat will be protected from the ravages of abortion.”