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Justice Dept. asks federal court to again block Texas 'heartbeat' abortion ban

Justice Dept. asks federal court to again block Texas 'heartbeat' abortion ban
Activists rally in downtown Los Angeles, Calif., on October 1 to support reproductive rights as part of a national movement to oppose Texas' near-total abortion ban. Photo by Jim Ruymen/UPI | License Photo

Oct. 12 (UPI) -- After a federal appeals court reinstated Texas' controversial abortion ban, the Justice Department is making another effort to get it blocked on the grounds that it's an explicit violation of the U.S. Constitution.

The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ordered last week that the law be reinstated after it was blocked by a lower court at the department's request.

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The law outlaws abortions as soon as a fetal heartbeat is detectable, which can be as early as six weeks into pregnancy, a time when many women aren't even aware that they're pregnant.

Opponents to the law say it's an invasive overreach and unconstitutional on the basis that it contravenes the U.S. Supreme Court's landmark 1973 decision in Roe vs. Wade that legalized abortion nationwide.

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Late Monday, the Justice Department revived its legal challenge in asking the Circuit court to suspend the law while it navigates the courts.

"The American union rests on 'a constitution the supremacy of which all acknowledge, and which imposes limits to the legislatures of the several states, which none claim a right to pass,'" the department said in its filing, quoting a passage by former Supreme Court Chief Justice John Marshall.

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"[The Texas law] flouts that principle by blatantly violating constitutional rights and severely constraining judicial review of its unconstitutional restrictions. That is why the United States brought this suit and why the district court preliminarily enjoined [its] enforcement."

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The department argued that allowing the law to stand would cause "substantial harm" to U.S. interests and "disserve the public interest."

Under the law, enforcement is left up to public citizens to report and allows them to collect $10,000 in each case of attempted abortion. The law not only targets women who seek an abortion, but it also opens liability to anyone who aids them in seeking an abortion.

Specifically, the Justice Department's renewed petition argues that Texas intentionally left enforcement to public citizens to withstand legal challenges.

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"Texas does not even attempt to defend [the law's] constitutionality in this court," the department's filing added. "Recognizing that [it] contravenes controlling Supreme Court precedent, Texas instead crafted the law to hinder judicial review, by disclaiming enforcement powers and by attempting to render any post-enforcement review ineffective."

The Texas law allows no exception for pregnancies that result from rape, incest or medical emergencies.

The Circuit court said last week that it would give the department until Tuesday to respond before deciding whether to continue allowing enforcement of the law or allow a lower court to block it again.

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"Texas defends its novel scheme by invoking state sovereignty. But state sovereignty does not encompass the authority to defy the federal Constitution," the department said in its filing Monday. "If Texas' scheme is permissible, no constitutional right is safe from state-sanctioned sabotage of this kind."

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