Attorney General Merrick Garland announced Thursday that the United States Department of Justice is suing the state of Texas over Senate Bill 8, a controversial law also known as the Heartbeat Act, which bans abortion after just six weeks of pregnancy. The unveiling of the lawsuit comes just two days after Garland said the department was “exploring all options” to challenge the law following public outcry concerning its constitutionality.
S.B. 8 has made waves since it was instituted after the Supreme Court’s refusal to intervene. The law makes no exemption to allow abortions in cases of rape and incest, only allowing a procedure to go forward if a doctor determines the presence of a “medical emergency.” It also allows uninvolved citizens to sue abortion providers and rideshare drivers for up to $10,000 — a practice the DOJ called an “unprecedented scheme.”
“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 in a press conference. “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 complaint, filed in a federal court in Austin, seeks a judgement declaring the law null and void, as well as a preliminary injunction against the state of Texas. The DOJ claims S.B. 8 conflicts with federal law, violates the 14th amendment, and is likely to interfere with the operations of several federal agencies including the Bureau of Prisons.
“S.B. 8 further interferes with BOP operations because it imposes civil liability on those who “pay for or reimburse[e] the costs of an abortion,” the complaint reads. “Because S.B. 8 includes no carve out for abortions in cases of rape or incest, it purports to impose civil liability on BOP officials who are required to ‘assume all costs’ for such abortions under federal law. S.B. 8 therefore directly burdens and frustrates BOP’s functions in cases of rape or incest for inmates located within Texas.”
The CEO of Planned Parenthood, a nonprofit organization that provides abortions and other women’s health services, applauded the DOJ’s decision to sue over the controversial law, calling it “dangerous and unjust.”
“Right now patients across Texas are scared, they are confused, and they are being left with nowhere to turn to access safe, legal abortion. Texans deserve the freedom and power to control their own bodies, their own decisions, and their own lives,” Alexis McGill Johnson said in a statement. “Planned Parenthood will never abandon our patients, and we will do everything in our power to restore and protect access to abortion across Texas and the rest of the country. We hope this important next step by the Biden administration will help restore Texans’ access to the health care they need.”
President Biden has also been a strong critic of the law, which he says is an assault on the constitutional rights of women.
“By allowing a law to go into effect that empowers private citizens in Texas to sue health care providers, family members supporting a woman exercising her right to choose after six weeks, or even a friend who drives her to a hospital or clinic, it unleashes unconstitutional chaos and empowers self-anointed enforcers to have devastating impacts,” Biden said in a statement. “Complete strangers will now be empowered to inject themselves in the most private and personal health decisions faced by women.”