The DOJ Is Suing Texas Over Its Restrictive New Abortion Law

by Kristina Johnson
MANDEL NGAN/AFP via Getty Images

A.G. Merrick Garland says SB8 is “clearly unconstitutional”

The Department of Justice is suing Texas over the draconian abortion law passed in the state earlier this month. The controversial SB8 bill bans abortion after six weeks — before many people even realize they’re pregnant. There are absolutely no exceptions for cases of rape or incest.

Attorney General Merrick Garland came out swinging against the law on Thursday, calling it “clearly unconstitutional under longstanding Supreme Court precedent,” referring to Roe v. Wade. “This kind of scheme to nullify the Constitution of the United States is one that all Americans, whatever their politics or party, should fear,” he added.

Garland also took issue with a component of the law that effectively lets Texas residents act as “bounty hunters authorized to recover at least $10,000 per claim from individuals who facilitate a woman’s exercise of her constitutional rights.” Letting vigilantes run amok with vulnerable pregnant people in their crosshairs? What could go wrong?

The A.G. says even though abortion is technically still legal in the state, SB8 has basically made one impossible to obtain. “Because this statute makes it too risky for an abortion clinic to stay open, abortion providers have ceased providing services,” Garland explained. “This leaves women in Texas unable to exercise their constitutional rights and unable to obtain judicial review at the very moment they need it.”

The Supreme Court allowed the law to take effect last week despite four Justices dissenting. President Biden called that decision “an unprecedented assault on a woman’s constitutional rights.”

The latest lawsuit filed by A.G. Garland could reach the Supreme Court once again — which means there’s a very real possibility that ultimately, it won’t change anything happening in Texas. But that’s a risk Garland seems willing to take — especially if in the meantime it deters other states from passing similar laws. “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,” he said. He lamented “damage that would be done to our society if states were allowed to implement laws that empower any private individual to infringe on another’s constitutionally protected rights in this way.”

Advocates for reproductive rights in Texas are thrilled that the DOJ is now involved. “It’s a gamechanger that the Department of Justice has joined the legal battle to restore constitutionally protected abortion access in Texas and disarm vigilantes looking to collect their bounties,” Nancy Northup, the president of the Center for Reproductive Rights, told the Associated Press. The battle to get SB8 off the books in Texas is certainly going to be a long, uphill one — but it’s one well worth fighting.