Republican Texas Gov. Greg Abbott sparked a left-wing backlash earlier this year upon signing into law a restrictive new bill that effectively bans abortions performed after a heartbeat can be detected in the womb.
President Joe Biden and other Democratic leaders have vowed to fight back, but a judge recently denied a request from the Department of Justice (DOJ) to halt the law with a temporary injunction while litigation in the matter continues.
“Private civil actions”
According to Fox News, the Justice Department argued in its court brief that the so-called Heartbeat Act would prevent women in Texas “from exercising their constitutional rights.”
In an effort to prove its case, the agency pointed to prior Supreme Court rulings that have concluded a state is not permitted “to prohibit any woman from making the ultimate decision to terminate her pregnancy before viability.”
Unborn babies are generally considered to be viable outside of the womb after 24 weeks, though there are examples of those who have survived even earlier births. Meanwhile, a fetal heartbeat is typically detectable at about six weeks.
Also at issue in the case is the manner in which the legislation was written. Instead of being enforced by state officials, the law permits private individuals to sue anyone aside from the woman who participates in or facilitates an abortion.
As the legislation explains, it is to be enforced “exclusively through the private civil actions” of individuals rather than through criminal prosecution.
“A plainly unconstitutional law”
In fact, enforcement of the law “by this state, a political subdivision, a district or county attorney, or an executive or administrative officer or employee of this state or a political subdivision” is expressly prohibited.
These provisions have thus far thwarted efforts to challenge the law, which the Justice Department noted in its complaint.
The agency asserted that Texas concocted “an unprecedented scheme that seeks to deny women and providers the ability to challenge S.B. 8 in federal court.”
Furthermore, the Justice Department argued that the state’s “attempt to shield a plainly unconstitutional law from review cannot stand.”
U.S. District Judge Robert Pitman disagreed, though, denying the request with a one-page opinion on Thursday in which he determined that “this case presents complex, important questions of law that merit a full opportunity for the parties to present their positions to the Court.”