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Justice Department Wants Texas To Immediately Halt Enforcement Of Its Abortion Ban


The Justice Department wants Texas to stop enforcing that controversial law that effectively bans most abortions in the state. DOJ is already suing the state to block the law altogether, but now it's asking a court to take immediate action while that legal challenge plays out. NPR justice correspondent Ryan Lucas is here to explain what's going on. Ryan, so tell us about the DOJ's latest move.

RYAN LUCAS, BYLINE: Well, the Justice Department filed a motion late last night asking a federal court, as you said, to stop enforcement of Texas' new controversial abortion law. The law is known as SB 8, and it bans abortions six weeks after pregnancy, which, of course, is before many people realize that they're pregnant. There are no exceptions for rape or incest in this law.

Now, in this emergency motion filed in federal court in Austin, Texas, the department argues that the court should issue a temporary restraining order or preliminary injunction to halt enforcement of the law, as you said, while this lawsuit that the Justice Department has filed plays out. This is a normal step, and it's something that we expected to see from the Justice Department.

MARTÍNEZ: OK. So what comes next?

LUCAS: Well, Texas Governor Greg Abbott has staunchly defended this law so far. We will have to see how the state responds now and ultimately what the court decides. But in its filing, the Justice Department tried to stress that time is really of the essence here. It presents what it says are the devastating effects of the new abortion law since it took effect on September 1. The Justice Department says that the law has, quote, "gravely and irreparably impaired women's ability to exercise their constitutional right to an abortion across the state."

And it provides examples. It says that clinics in neighboring states are receiving panicked calls from patients in Texas and that they continue to see large increases in minor patients, survivors of sexual assaults, patients with a maternal or fetal diagnosis and patients with later gestational ages. It also says that women in Texas who can travel have been driving hundreds of miles to Oklahoma, to Kansas, to New Mexico and other states where the Justice Department says abortion providers have been, quote, "overwhelmed with Texas residents."

MARTÍNEZ: I got to say, I'm not surprised about that. Remind us about what the thrust of that larger challenge is.

LUCAS: The thrust of the Justice Department's lawsuit is that this new abortion law in Texas is unconstitutional, that it violates the Supremacy Clause and equal protection afforded under the 14th Amendment. DOJ argues that it also contradicts Supreme Court precedent on abortion by preventing women from exercising their constitutional right to one. The way the law does this is what is so different here. It in essence deputizes average folks in Texas to sue doctors and drivers and other people who may have a hand in helping women get abortions after six weeks. And potentially, these people who sue can get $10,000 in damages if they win in court.

The Justice Department argues that this is a scheme to try to shield this new Texas law from judicial review. Attorney General Merrick Garland said last week when he announced the Justice Department's lawsuit that he views this Texas law as clearly unconstitutional. But there's a broader picture here to also keep in mind. Part of the urgency here, Garland said, is the concern that other states may try to pass similar laws restricting not just abortion, but other constitutional rights as well.

MARTÍNEZ: That's NPR justice correspondent Ryan Lucas. Ryan, thanks.

LUCAS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

A Martínez is one of the hosts of Morning Edition and Up First. He came to NPR in 2021 and is based out of NPR West.
Ryan Lucas covers the Justice Department for NPR.