US Justice Department: We Will Protect Women Seeking Abortions*

Reactions to Texas anti-abortion law: The U.S. attorney general announces that patients and abortion clinics can count on federal law enforcement support, the Women’s March is preparing mass protests, and a local court temporarily blocks lawsuits against the largest chain of abortion clinics.

In a statement on Monday, U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland said that the Department of Justice would protect the safety of Texas women seeking abortion and individuals providing the procedure.

He added that he is in contact with local prosecutors and FBI offices, and has reminded them about the 1994 Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act, which prohibits the use or threat of physical force against a person seeking to undergo or perform an abortion.

Garland has also made it known that “the Justice Department urgently explores all options to challenge Texas SB8 in order to protect the constitutional rights of women.”

Peculiar Texas Law

The Texas legislature passed the abortion bill in May and it took effect in early September despite strong protests from abortion rights activists. The law prohibits the termination of pregnancy after a fetal heartbeat is detected, which usually happens six weeks into a pregnancy.

This is the strictest anti-abortion law in the U.S.

Observers expected that the courts would block the law, as the right to abortion is guaranteed for U.S. women by Supreme Court precedent set in a 1973 ruling. However, this time, it was not to be. The courts were hampered by the specifics of the Texas law, which entrusts its enforcement not to state authorities but private citizens. Anyone can file a lawsuit against an individual who helps carry out an illegal abortion. Defendants are subject to a $10,000 fine if they are convicted, payable to the individual who filed the lawsuit.

Critics argue that this is an invitation to intimidate patients, harass abortion clinics and open up a floodgate of lawsuits. Although Garland’s announcement does not foreclose private lawsuits, it does increase the safety of patients and doctors for now.

Just a few hours before the law took effect, one of the clinics where pregnant women still waited for an abortion was surrounded by anti-abortion activists who shined their flashlights in the windows.

What Will the Courts Do?

In an interview with the Guardian, Melissa Upreti, chairwoman of the U.N. Working Group on discrimination against women and girls, criticized the Republican-backed bill, claiming that it violates women’s rights guaranteed by international law.

The Women’s March and more than 90 other organizations have announced protests in every state. They will take place in early October, when the new session of the Supreme Court begins. Activists still hope the Supreme Court will reject the bill. Last week it refused to do so, but noted that it acted on procedural issues alone and was not ruling on substantive constitutional questions.

The problem is, as University of Michigan lawyer Barbara McQuade argues on Twitter, “even if SCOTUS eventually ‘swats away’ TX abortion ban, it will take months, denying many women their constitutional right.”

“Imagine a law banning all possession of guns, enforceable by rewards for bounty hunters. Would it be ok to wait months to stop it?” McQuade adds painting a vivid picture.

However, lower courts may also act. For example, a Travis County district judge temporarily banned the anti-abortion organization Texas Right to Life from filing lawsuits against Planned Parenthood’s clinics, doctors and staff. The judge found there was a threat of irreparable damage if she did not issue a stay, which is valid until Sept. 17.

Internet Users Versus Texas

Texas Right to Life recently launched a website to help track abortion cases. There is even an online form where you can attach photos as evidence.

But the website became the target of a massive attack by internet users. They submitted thousands of false reports, including pornographic material and “Shrek” memes. They prefer to make absurd accusations, against such things as state highways that women drive on the way to surgery.

*Editor’s note: The original language version of this article is available with a paid subscription.

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