The US Justice Department is suing Texas in an attempt to block its new law banning most abortions, arguing the state’s legislature enacted it “in open defiance of the constitution”.
The lawsuit comes after the Supreme Court last week refused to block the legislation, which prohibits nearly all abortions after six weeks of pregnancy, from taking effect.
The court judges narrowly voted 5-4 to allow it, prompting President Joe Biden to attack the ruling as an “insult” to the rule of law.
And now his attorney general, Merrick Garland, has announced legal action against Texas.
The civil lawsuit, filed in federal court in the state, asks a federal judge to declare the abortion law, known as SB8 (Senate Bill 8), is invalid “to protect the rights that Texas has violated”.
Speaking at a news conference, Mr Garland said: “The act is clearly unconstitutional under long-standing Supreme Court precedent.”
The Justice Department argues SB8 unlawfully infringes on the constitutional rights of women and violates the supremacy clause of the constitution, which says federal law supersedes state law.
SB8, signed into law in May by Republican Governor Greg Abbott, bans abortions after the detection of a foetal heartbeat, which usually occurs around the sixth week of pregnancy.
By that time, many women still do not know they are pregnant.
Rather than placing public officials or law enforcement in charge of enforcing the ban, the law empowers private citizens to file civil lawsuits against abortion providers or anyone who “aids or abets” in an abortion after the six-week threshold.
Family members, rape crisis counsellors and other medical professionals could be open to lawsuits, according to legal experts and physicians who opposed the measure.
People who sued would be awarded at least $10,000, as well as the costs of lawyers’ fees, if they won.
Analysis by Helen-Ann Smith, news correspondent
Critics say the rules effectively establish a bounty system in order to sidestep women’s abortion rights enshrined in the landmark 1973 Supreme Court case Roe v Wade.
Federal officials are also concerned other states could enact similar laws that would “deprive their citizens of their constitutional rights,” Mr Garland said.
He added: “This kind of scheme to nullify the constitution of the United States is one that all Americans, whatever their politics or party, should fear.
“If it prevails, it may become a model for action in other areas, by other states and with respect to other constitutional rights and judicial precedents.”
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