U.S. Attorney General Merrick B. Garland issued a statement on Monday in response to a new law in Texas that allows civil courts to get between American citizens and their constitutional right to privacy, as defined in the 1973 Supreme Court ruling known as Roe v. Wade.
The new so-called Heartbeat Law implements across Texas a near-total ban abortion, which is a constitutionally-protected right in the United States.
“While the Justice Department urgently explores all options to challenge Texas SB8 in order to protect the constitutional rights of women and other persons, including access to an abortion, we will continue to protect those seeking to obtain or provide reproductive health services pursuant to our criminal and civil enforcement of the FACE Act, 18 U.S.C. § 248,” said Garland.
The federal law, commonly known as the FACE Act, prohibits physically obstructing or using the threat of force to intimidate or interfere with a person seeking reproductive health services. The law also prohibits damaging property at abortion clinics and other reproductive health centers.
The new Texas law prohibits abortions once medical professionals can detect cardiac activity, usually around six weeks — before some women know they’re pregnant.
While courts have blocked other states from imposing similar restrictions, the statute in Texas differs significantly because it leaves enforcement up to private citizens through lawsuits instead of criminal prosecutors.
The Heartbeat Law permits people to sue physicians and anyone else suspected of assisting a woman with an abortion, including Uber and Lyft drivers.
Over the weekend, Lyft issued a statement in support of its drivers and stated that the company would cover 100 percent of drivers’ legal fees if they are sued for driving a woman to receive an abortion.
The DOJ says federal policies supersede the state’s authorization for citizens to interfere in women’s reproductive health.
“The FACE Act prohibits the use or threat of force and physical obstruction that injures, intimidates, or interferes with a person seeking to obtain or provide reproductive health services,” said Garland. “It also prohibits intentional property damage of a facility providing reproductive health services. The department has consistently obtained criminal and civil remedies for violations of the FACE Act since it was signed into law in 1994, and it will continue to do so now.”
Garland added that the DOJ is prepared to provide support to abortion clinics and reproductive health centers under attack using federal law enforcement.
The DOJ has coordinated with the U.S. Attorneys Offices and FBI field offices in Texas and across the country to discuss enforcement.
“The department will provide support from federal law enforcement when an abortion clinic or reproductive health center is under attack,” said Garland. “We have reached out to U.S. Attorneys’ Offices and FBI field offices in Texas and across the country to discuss our enforcement authorities.:
“We will not tolerate violence against those seeking to obtain or provide reproductive health services, physical obstruction or property damage in violation of the FACE Act,” said Garland.