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Justice Department Files Emergency Motion Asking Federal Judge to Block Texas’ Six-Week Abortion Ban

The Department of Justice asked a federal district judge Tuesday to block the enforcement of Texas’ new six-week abortion ban, which effectively eliminates all abortion access in the second-largest state.

The Justice Department filed an emergency motion requesting that Judge Robert L. Pitman of the Western District of Texas implement a preliminary injunction and temporary restraining order that would block enforcement of the Texas law, SB 8, while it is litigated. A preliminary injunction would prevent people or organizations from filing lawsuits against those who help a person obtain an abortion while the law is examined in court. Last week, the Justice Department filed a lawsuit to challenge the six-week ban, arguing that it is unconstitutional.

In the emergency filing, the Justice Department wrote that the Texas abortion ban was designed “to prevent women from exercising their constitutional rights.”

The abortion ban, which is the strictest in the country, prevents people from obtaining an abortion after six weeks of pregnancy, before many know that they are pregnant. It offers no exceptions for rape or incest. The Justice Department argued that this pre-viability abortion ban is unconstitutional, given the Supreme Court precedent that guarantees a person’s constitutional right to terminate their pregnancy before viability.

The Justice Department also argued that the law’s method of enforcement, which relies on private citizens, rather than state officials, to sue people suspected of helping someone get an abortion, is designed to make it more difficult for abortion rights groups to challenge the law in court. In the filing, the Justice Department wrote that this enforcement method is “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 Supreme Court upheld the Texas abortion ban in a 5-4 vote two weeks ago, but its decision left open the possibility of future challenges to the law.

The Department of Justice’s filing articulates that a preliminary injunction “is necessary to protect the constitutional rights of women in Texas and the sovereign interest of the United States in ensuring that its States respect the terms of the national compact.”

Abortion providers applauded the Justice Department’s request, noting how the six-week ban forces Texans to either continue an unwanted pregnancy or seek abortion care out of state, which places severe burdens and expenses on patients.

“Every day that S.B. 8 is in effect, our patients are in jeopardy,” said Melaney Linton, President and CEO of Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast.

Sources: New York Times 9/15/21; NPR 9/15/21; Feminist Newswire 9/10/21; Washington Post 9/14/21; Planned Parenthood 9/15/21

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