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Justice Department asks Supreme Court to block Texas abortion law

By Don Jacobson
Justice Department asks Supreme Court to block Texas abortion law
Supporters of abortion rights gathered in downtown Los Angeles on October 1 to protest against Texas' near-total abortion ban. File Photo by Jim Ruymen/UPI | License Photo

Oct. 18 (UPI) -- The Justice Department on Monday filed an emergency application with the Supreme Court asking to it bar the implementation of a new Texas law banning most abortions after six weeks of pregnancy.

The application, signed by Acting U.S. Solicitor General Brian Fletcher, asks the high court to block the controversial Texas law known as Senate Bill 8 until legal challenges against it run their course.

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S.B. 8, the government says, defies a "half a century" of Supreme Court precedents holding that "a state may not prohibit any woman from making the ultimate decision to terminate her pregnancy before viability."

The Texas law violates the Court's landmark rulings in Planned Parenthood vs. Casey and Roe vs. Wade "by banning abortion long before viability -- indeed, before many women even realize they are pregnant," the DOJ argued.

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"Texas is not the first State to question Roe and Casey. But rather than forthrightly defending its law and asking this Court to revisit its decisions, Texas took matters into its own hands by crafting an 'unprecedented' structure to thwart judicial review," it said, citing the law's provision tapping the "public at large" to enforce the law through a bounty system.

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Monday's filing comes after the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals last week sided against the Justice Department and allowed Texas' abortion ban, the most restrictive in the nation, to stand.

The three-judge panel ruled 2-1 Thursday against the Justice Department's request to block the law on the grounds of it being unconstitutional, staying an earlier ruling by Judge Robert Pitman of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas.

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"This is the third time a challenge to the Texas abortion ban has been brought to the Supreme Court," the American Civil Liberties Union wrote in a tweet. "It must now take action and stop this ban from continuing to wreak havoc in Texas, forcing people to carry pregnancies against their will."

The controversial law went into effect Sept. 1 banning physicians from performing abortions once cardiac activity of the fetus is detected, which generally occurs at around the six-week mark of a pregnancy and before many women even know they are pregnant.

The ban is enforced by the public, who are incentivized to sue through civil court anyone who performs, aids or abets an abortion.

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Opponents have assailed the bill for being unconstitutional as it denies pregnant people their constitutional right to an abortion while skirting judicial review by putting its enforcement in the hands of the public rather than in those of the state.

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Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, a Republican, contends the federal government doesn't have proper standing to step in because of its provisions removing state officers as enforcers of the law.

"Texas has no legal relationship with the private individuals who may make use of S.B. 8's private cause of action," Paxton wrote in a case filing, so the courts cannot "hold Texas responsible for the filings of private citizens that Texas is powerless to prevent."

Thousands gather for Women's March across U.S.

Thousands participating in the annual Women's March walk up Constitution Avenue toward the U.S. Supreme Court, past the U.S. Capitol, to show support for abortion and reproductive rights in Washington, D.C., on Saturday. Photo by Bonnie Cash/UPI | License Photo

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