Biden administration to ask top court to block Texas abortion law

US Justice Department says it will ask US Supreme Court to block contentious law that bans abortions after six weeks.

Texas's SB8, which went into effect on September 1, is the most restrictive anti-abortion law in the country [File: Leah Millis/Reuters]

The Biden administration will ask the US Supreme Court to block a Texas law that outlaws most abortions, the Justice Department has said, as the legal battle over abortion rights in the United States escalates.

A US Justice Department spokesperson said on Friday that the administration would ask the top US court to “vacate” a recent appeals court ruling that upheld the Texas law, which bans abortions after six weeks of pregnancy.

The Justice Department had sued Texas over the legislation, known as SB8, and last week a district judge blocked the ban, but the 5th US Circuit Court of Appeals reinstated it two days later.

That appeals court decision is what the Justice Department is asking the Supreme Court to dismiss, spokesman Anthony Coley said in Friday’s statement.

The Texas law is the strictest anti-abortion measure in the country, spurring nationwide protests and criticism from women’s rights advocates who say the US faces a “critical” moment in the fight for abortion rights.

The legislation, which went into effect on September 1, incentivises private citizens to sue anyone who provides or assists in an abortion after the six-week mark.

In its landmark Roe v Wade decision, the Supreme Court in 1973 legalised abortion nationwide under the constitutional right to privacy, but conservative states have passed restrictive laws in a bid to challenge legal precedents.

The Supreme Court, which has a 6-3 conservative majority, had refused to block SB8 before it took effect in September, despite acknowledging “serious questions regarding the constitutionality” of the measure.

In a 5-4 decision, the justices said courts can block officials from enforcing laws, but not the laws themselves, opening the door for future challenges once the law goes into effect.

The Justice Department has slammed Texas’s approach of leaving enforcement to private citizens, calling it an “unprecedented scheme”.

“This kind of scheme to nullify the Constitution of the United States is one that all Americans – whatever their politics or party – should fear,” Attorney General Merrick Garland said last month.

“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,” he said.

In Texas, women’s rights advocates say the law has spurred fear and confusion.

“Once SB8 went into effect I panicked, as I’m sure a lot of people did,” Jessy Lieck, a 30-year-old law student in Lubbock, Texas, told Al Jazeera. “If my birth control fails or if I’m raped and it’s past six weeks, I’m going to be forced to carry a rapist’s child, which is incredibly traumatic.”

But Texas officials insist the law protects what they call the right to life for unborn children.

Source: Al Jazeera