US Justice Dept to announce civil rights case after Texas abortion ban takes effect

WASHINGTON (REUTERS) – The US Department of Justice said it plans to announce a civil rights action on Thursday (Sept 9), as President Joe Biden’s administration aims to block enforcement of a Texas law that almost entirely bans abortion in the state.

The US Supreme Court last week let stand a Texas law banning abortion after about six weeks of pregnancy, before many woman realise they are pregnant. The decision represented a major victory for social conservatives who have been trying to ban the procedure since the court’s 1973 Roe v Wade decision established the constitutional right to abortion.

Biden has warned the law would cause “unconstitutional chaos” because it relies on private citizens to enforce it by filing civil lawsuits against people who help a woman obtain an abortion after six weeks, whether it be a doctor who performs the procedure or a cabbie who drives a woman to a clinic.

The law allows the people who sue to receive bounties of at least US$10,000 (S$13,450) and makes no exceptions in cases of rape or incest, although there are some very narrowly defined exemptions for the mother’s health.

Republican Texas Governor Greg Abbott defended the law this week, saying that the state would “eliminate all rapists”.

The Supreme Court’s decision not to block the Texas law left abortion-rights activists worried that the court, on which conservatives hold a 6-3 majority, may be open to overturning Roe when it hears a case involving a Mississippi abortion ban later this year.

Attorney-General Merrick Garland earlier this week foreshadowed that the Justice Department could intervene, saying the department would “protect those seeking to obtain or provide reproductive health services” through a 1994 law known as the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act.

The FACE Act prohibits the use of force and physical obstruction to interfere with a person obtaining or providing reproductive health services.

Because it takes several weeks before pregnancy can even be detected on a standard urine test, it means that women in Texas could have just a one or two-week window to seek an abortion before being banned from doing do.

Some 85 to 90 per cent of abortion procedures take place after six weeks of pregnancy, and leaving the ban in place could cause clinics to close, abortion-rights groups warned.

A majority of Americans believe abortion should be legal in the United States, according to Reuters/Ipsos polling. Some 52 per cent said it should be legal in most or all cases, with just 36 per cent saying it should be illegal in most or all cases.

But it remains a deeply polarising issue, with a majority of Democrats supporting abortion rights and a majority of Republicans opposing them.

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