WASHINGTON — The Justice Department announced Thursday it will challenge a controversial abortion law that bans the procedure after about six weeks, well before most women know they are pregnant, a person familiar with the matter said.
The action comes as the Biden administration has been facing pressure from Democrats to block the Texas statute, especially after the Supreme Court last week allowed it to take effect.
Attorney General Merrick Garland announced his office would bring suit under the 14th Amendment and under the Supremacy Clause of the Constitution, that states that it takes precedence over state constitutions.
“The Department of Justice has the duty to defend the Constitution of the United States and uphold the law. Today we defend that duty,” he said.
The law prohibits abortions once medical professionals can detect cardiac activity. Other states have attempted unsuccessfully to pass similar bans, but what distinguishes this one is that it essentially taps private citizens to enforce it, allowing them to sue medical professionals or others who assist in an abortion. Plaintiffs can recover $10,000 or more in damages and have their legal fees reimbursed by the defendants. The law is structured in a way that also makes it difficult to challenge in court, frustrating abortion advocates and providers.
Garland called the law “a legislative scheme specifically designed to prevent the vindication” of women’s constitutional rights.
President Joe Biden last week called the new law “almost un-American” and asked his Justice Department to examine whether it had any power to have it invalidated.
“I have been and continue to be a strong supporter of Roe v. Wade, No. 1,” Biden said. “And the most pernicious thing about the Texas law, it sort of creates a vigilante system.”
Abortion rights advocates said the Texas law violates the Roe vs. Wade decision, which overturned a Texas abortion ban in 1973 and said women had the right to end a pregnancy.
Abortion opponents have hailed the law a turning point for the movement in America. The potential for Justice Department legal action was first reported Thursday by The Wall Street Journal.
Garland had said in a statement Monday that the Justice Department was “urgently” exploring options to challenge the law “to protect the constitutional rights of women and other persons, including access to an abortion.”