The Department of Justice asked a federal judge on Tuesday to immediately block Texas’ restrictive ban on abortions past six weeks of pregnancy while the case makes its way through the court system.
The Justice Department asked the judge to issue a temporary restraining order or a preliminary injunction, both of which would put the law on hold and prohibit enforcement until the case is resolved.
“Texas devised an unprecedented scheme that seeks to deny women and providers the ability to challenge S.B. 8 in federal court. This attempt to shield a plainly unconstitutional law from review cannot stand,” the agency said in a brief filed late Tuesday. “This relief is necessary to protect the constitutional rights of women in Texas and the sovereign interest of the United States.”
The DOJ sued the state of Texas last week over the new law, called Senate Bill 8, which bans abortions after about six weeks, before most women even know they are pregnant. The law is particularly nefarious in that it effectively deputizes private citizens to sue anyone accused of “aiding and abetting” those who seek an illegal abortion in the state.
Anyone who sues under the terms of S.B. 8 can receive a bounty of up to $10,000, and the law was drafted specifically to be difficult to challenge in court.
U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland said last week that the bill was an “unprecedented” attempt to strip women of their constitutional rights.
“This kind of scheme to nullify the Constitution of the United States is one that all Americans — whatever their politics or party — should fear,” Garland said. “If it prevails, it may become a model for action in other areas, by other states, and with respect to other constitutional rights and judicial precedents.”
The Supreme Court declined to block the law earlier this month in a 5-4 ruling, a striking defeat for abortion rights advocates that prompted the court’s liberal justices to castigate their conservative colleagues.
“The court’s order is stunning,” Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote in a scathing dissent. “Presented with an application to enjoin a flagrantly unconstitutional law engineered to prohibit women from exercising their constitutional rights and evade judicial scrutiny, a majority of Justices have opted to bury their heads in the sand.”
Abortion rights groups have said the new law will force tens of thousands of women to travel outside the state to get an abortion, a huge financial and emotional burden. Women’s rights groups also fear Senate Bill 8 could become a blueprint for other states to copy in an effort to rein in access to safe and legal abortions.