WASHINGTON (CBSDFW.COM/AP/CNN) — The Justice Department has formally asked the US Supreme Court to block the Texas law banning most abortions after six weeks of pregnancy, while the fight over the measure plays out in the courts.
The law has been in effect since September, aside from a district court-ordered pause that lasted just 48 hours, and bans abortions once cardiac activity is detected, usually around six weeks and before many women know they are pregnant.
The Justice Department asked the high court Monday to lift an order imposed by a conservative federal appeals court that has allowed Texas to continue enforcing the nation's strictest curbs on abortion through a novel law that was written to make it hard to challenge in the federal court system. The department had announced its intentions last Friday.
As the justices consider the law again, they will review the record detailing how the law has impacted women and clinics on the ground over the past six weeks. In sworn declarations, abortion providers say that it has had a chilling effect because staff are "plagued by fear and instability," and they "remain seriously concerned that even providing abortions in compliance with S.B. 8 will draw lawsuits from anti-abortion vigilantes or others seeking financial gain" under the law's enforcement provision, which offers up to $10,000 in damages.
Providers in neighboring states said under oath that they have been overwhelmed with patients traveling from Texas seeking an abortion. When Judge Robert Pitman of the US District Court for the Western District of Texas temporarily blocked the law earlier this month, he said that from the moment it went into effect, "women have been unlawfully prevented from exercising control over their lives in ways that are protected by the Constitution."
A key issue in the case is whether the federal government has the legal right or "standing" to bring the challenge at hand. The DOJ says it does, in part, because private individuals bringing suit are acting as agents of the state and the government has the power to protect the fundamental rights of its citizens.
But Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, a Republican, says the federal government doesn't have the right to step in.
He is supported by a brief filed by Jonathan Mitchell, one of the architects of the law who is now representing three individuals who are interested in bringing lawsuits against those who may violate the law.
The justices could act on the emergency application at any time, although they are likely to ask for a response from Texas. Normally, once they get the response, the Justice Department has a chance to reply before the court issues an order in the case.
(© Copyright 2021 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press and the CNN Wire™ & © 2021 Cable News Network, Inc., a Time Warner Company contributed to this report.)
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