'Law is almost un-American': Biden administration sues Texas over abortion ban

President Joe Biden has said the law is “almost un-American” Credit: AP

The Biden administration is suing Texas over a new state law that bans most abortions.

The US Justice Department, which filed the lawsuit on Thursday, has asked a federal judge to declare the law as invalid to "protect the rights that Texas has violated."

The Texas law, known as SB8, prohibits abortions once medical professionals can detect cardiac activity — usually around six weeks and before some women know they are pregnant.

Courts have blocked other states from imposing similar restrictions but Texas’s law differs significantly because it leaves enforcement to private citizens through civil lawsuits instead of criminal prosecutors.

Women protest against the six-week abortion ban Credit: Jay Janner/Austin American-Statesman via AP

Pressure had been mounting on the Justice Department not only from the White House – President Joe Biden has said the law is “almost un-American” – but also from Democrats in Congress, who wanted Attorney General Merrick Garland to take action.

“The act is clearly unconstitutional under long-standing Supreme Court precedent,” Mr Garland said at a news conference announcing the lawsuit.

The Justice Department argues the law unlawfully infringes on the constitutional rights of women and violates the Supremacy Clause of the Constitution, which says federal law supersedes state law.

Federal officials are also concerned other states could enact similar laws that would “deprive their citizens of their constitutional rights”, he said.

“It is settled constitutional law that ‘a state may not prohibit any woman from making the ultimate decision to terminate her pregnancy before viability’,” the lawsuit reads. “But Texas has done just that.”

Attorney General Merrick Garland announces a lawsuit to block the enforcement of a new Texas law that bans most abortion. Credit: AP

The lawsuit filed on Thursday seeks an immediate injunction to prohibit enforcing the law in Texas.

Under the statute, someone could bring a lawsuit — even if they have no connection to the woman getting an abortion — and could be entitled to at least 10,000 dollars in damages if they prevail in court.

“The statute deputises all private citizens, without any showing of personal connection or injury, to serve as bounty hunters authorised to recover at least 10,000 dollars per claim from individuals who facilitate a woman’s exercise of her constitutional rights,” Mr Garland said.

“The obvious and expressly acknowledged intention of this statutory scheme is to prevent women from exercising their constitutional rights by thwarting judicial review.”

The attorney general also argued the Texas law could expose some federal employees at different agencies across the government to civil liability for doing their jobs.

The Texas law is the nation’s biggest curb to abortion since the Supreme Court affirmed in the landmark 1973 decision Roe v Wade that women have a constitutional right to an abortion.

Abortion providers have said they will comply but already some of Texas’ roughly two dozen abortion clinics have temporarily stopped offering abortion services altogether. Clinics in neighbouring states, meanwhile, have seen a surge in patients from Texas.

Texas Right to Life, the state’s largest anti-abortion group and a driver of the new law, said on Thursday in anticipation of the lawsuit that they were already working with other states to pass similar measures.

“The Biden administration’s ploy represents a desperate attempt to stop the life-saving law by any means necessary,” the group said.