On Tuesday, the Biden administration filed a formal request with a federal judge to halt the implementation of a new Texas legislation that effectively bans almost all abortions in the state, citing a novel legal design that opponents claim is meant to avoid a court challenge.
The US Justice Department has filed a 45-page emergency request seeking a temporary restraining order or preliminary injunction to abolish the abortion ban while its lawsuit challenging the statute as illegal is being heard in court.
The Republican-backed rule prohibits abortions after cardiac activity in the embryo has been found, which usually occurs around six weeks of pregnancy before many women are even aware they are pregnant.
It makes strictly specified exclusions to preserve the mother's health, but it gives no exceptions for pregnancies caused by rape or incest. Governor Greg Abbott, who signed the bill into law earlier this month, defended it by claiming that the state would “eradicate all rapists.”
The issue is being keenly followed after the United States Supreme Court voted on Sept. 1 to keep the six-week abortion restriction in place pending judicial review, sparking outrage from abortion rights supporters.
The top court did not address the Texas statute's constitutionality. However, it was generally interpreted as an indication that the court's conservative majority was leaning toward overturning the historic 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, which guaranteed a woman's right to terminate her pregnancy before the fetus reached viability, at roughly 24 to 28 weeks of pregnancy.
Supporters of abortion rights were outraged that the court upheld sections of the Texas bill, known as S.B. 8, which they claimed were meant to avoid legal challenges.
The rule is enforced by private citizens rather than the state, who file civil actions against anyone who assists a woman in obtaining an abortion after six weeks, whether a doctor performs the procedure or a cab driver who drives her to a clinic. Individuals who file such lawsuits are eligible for bounties of at least $10,000.
“Although S.B. 8 was intended to create jurisdictional barriers to women and providers suing to protect their rights, those barriers do not obstruct the relief sought through this suit – an action brought by the United States against the state of Texas itself,” the DOJ motion stated.
The motion was filed Tuesday in Austin, Texas, with U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel, who was assigned to the Justice Department complaint filed Sept. 9 and earlier ruled against Abbott, another critical abortion case last year.
Pro-choice activists expect that the Biden administration's legal battle to the latest Texas law will fail.