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Biden Administration Asks Federal Judge to Block Texas Abortion Ban

The Biden Administration has formally asked a federal judge to block enforcement of a new Texas law that effectively bans almost all abortions in the state under a novel legal design that opponents say is intended to thwart court challenge. The US Department of Justice’s 45-page emergency motion seeks a temporary restraining order or preliminary injunction lifting the abortion ban while its lawsuit challenging the statute as unconstitutional proceeds through the courts.

The Republican-backed law forbids abortions performed once any cardiac activity has been detected in the embryo, which typically starts at six weeks of gestation but is often difficult to detect that early, well before many women even realize they are pregnant. It provides no exceptions for pregnancies resulting from rape or incest, though it makes narrowly defined exemptions to protect the mother’s health. Governor Greg Abbott, who signed the measure into law, defended it earlier this month saying that the state would “eliminate all rapists”.

Photo by Elijah Nouvelage/Getty Images

The Supreme Court decided on September 1st to let the six-week abortion ban remain in effect pending judicial review, igniting a firestorm of criticism from abortion rights advocates. The high court did not address the constitutionality of the Texas statute, but it widely was seen as a sign that the court’s conservative majority was inclined to roll back the landmark 1973 Roe v Wade ruling guaranteeing a woman’s right to terminate her pregnancy before viability of the fetus, at about 24 to 28 weeks of gestation.

Abortion rights supporters were especially outraged that the court left intact provisions of the Texas statute, known as SB 8, they said were designed to evade court challenges. The law relies on private citizens, rather than the state, to enforce it by filing civil suits against people who help a woman obtain an abortion after six weeks, whether that be a doctor who performs the procedure or a person who drives a woman to a clinic. And it allows individuals who file such suits to collect bounties of at least $10,000.

Tuesday’s motion was filed with US district judge Lee Yeakel in Austin, the state capital, who was assigned to the justice department lawsuit brought on 9 September and previously ruled against Abbott in another major abortion case last year. Abortion foes have predicted that the Biden administration challenge to the latest Texas law will fail.



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