The US Department of Justice has asked a federal judge to block Texas from enforcing its new restrictive abortion law.
The department sought a temporary restraining order or preliminary injunction that will prevent the law from being enforced, according to a report in the New York Times.
Senate Bill 8 (SB8), signed into law by Republican Governor Greg Abbott, bans abortions after the detection of a foetal heartbeat, which usually occurs around the sixth week of pregnancy.
At that time, many women do not know they are pregnant.
There are no exceptions for pregnancies that result from rape, sexual abuse, incest, or for pregnancies involving a foetal defect incompatible with life after birth.
Also, rather than public officials or police enforcing the ban, the law empowers private citizens to file civil lawsuits against abortion providers or anyone who “aids or abets” an abortion after six weeks.
This would leave family members, rape crisis counsellors, and other medical professionals open to lawsuits, and the people who sued them would be awarded at least $10,000, as well as the costs of lawyers’ fees, if they won.
The law came into effect on 1 September.
Earlier this month, the Supreme Court refused to block the legislation, with judges narrowly voting 5-4 to allow it, a ruling described by President Joe Biden as an “insult” to the rule of law.
On 9 September the Department of Justice sued Texas over the law, saying it was enacted “in open defiance of the Constitution”.
The court filing said the law was aimed at making it “too risky for an abortion clinic to operate in the state, thereby preventing women throughout Texas from exercising their constitutional rights, while simultaneously thwarting judicial review”.
“Thus far, the law has had its desired effect.
“To date, abortion providers have ceased providing services prohibited by SB8, leaving women in Texas unacceptably and unconstitutionally deprived of abortion services.
“Yet, despite this flagrant deprivation of rights, SB8 remains in effect.”
The court filing also commented on the law’s empowering of private citizens to file lawsuits against those “aiding and abetting” abortions.
It said that the state had “deputised ordinary citizens to serve as bounty hunters who are statutorily authorised to recover at least $10,000 per claim from individuals who facilitate a woman’s exercise of her constitutional rights.”