Attorney General Merrick Garland said Monday that the Justice Department will work to protect the safety of people seeking abortions in Texas as the agency continues to explore how it can challenge the state’s new anti-abortion law.
Garland said in a statement that while the Justice Department urgently explores “all options” to challenge the Texas law, “we will continue to protect those seeking to obtain or provide reproductive health services pursuant to our criminal and civil enforcement of the FACE Act.” The department will also provide federal law enforcement support when an abortion clinic or reproductive health center is “under attack,” according to the attorney general.
The FACE Act, or Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act, is a federal law enacted in 1994 that bans physically obstructing or using the threat of force to injure, intimidate or interfere with a person seeking reproductive health services. The law also prohibits intentional property damage at abortion clinics and other reproductive health centers.
“We have reached out to U.S. Attorneys’ Offices and FBI field offices in Texas and across the country to discuss our enforcement authorities,” Garland said. “We will not tolerate violence against those seeking to obtain or provide reproductive health services, physical obstruction or property damage in violation of the FACE Act.”
It’s unclear how helpful the FACE Act will be in Texas, where the extremely restrictive new law bans abortions after six weeks of pregnancy ― a time when most people are unaware that they’re pregnant ― and provides $10,000 bounties to private citizens who enforce the law by successfully suing anyone they suspect to be assisting in a person’s attempt to obtain an abortion. The ban went into effect Wednesday after the Supreme Court’s conservative majority declined to block it.
The Texas law will likely lead to abortion clinics closing as women either leave the state to obtain the procedure or attempt less safe methods out of fear ― potentially making the FACE Act not as powerful of a move as the Justice Department hoped. About 55,000 people in Texas had abortions last year, including nearly 1,200 who were out-of-state residents, according to data collected by the Texas Health and Human Services Department.
Garland said last week that the Justice Department is “evaluating all options to protect the constitutional rights of women, including access to abortion.” President Joe Biden directed the Gender Policy Council and the Office of the White House Counsel to launch a “whole-of-government effort to respond to” the Supreme Court’s decision to allow the law to go into effect, including investigating what the Justice and Health and Human Services departments can do to make sure people in Texas can access abortions. But it’s still unclear what the administration can actually do to protect abortion access while the Texas law remains in effect.