The Department of Justice has said it will protect women who are seeking abortions in Texas after the state’s highly restrictive abortion law came into effect last week
In a press release, attorney general Merrick Garland said that the department will explore “all options” to challenge the new Texas law, adding that it will provide support for women in the state who are still seeking abortions.
“The department will provide support from federal law enforcement when an abortion clinic or reproductive health center is under attack. We have reached out to US attorneys’ offices and FBI field offices in Texas and across the country to discuss our enforcement authorities,” Mr Garland said in the statement.
It continued: “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.”
The Face (Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances) Act, as the press release explained, prohibits the use or threat of force and physical obstruction that injures or interferes with a person who is seeking to obtain or provide reproductive services. Signed into law in 1994, the act also prohibits damage to a facility providing reproductive health services.
Texas’ new abortion law came into effect on Wednesday, and effectively bans almost all abortions from around 6 weeks onwards – ostensibly when a “heartbeat” can first be detected in pregnancy.
However, medical and reproductive health experts have fiercely criticised the bill, saying the reference to a heartbeat is medically inaccurate as an embryo does not have a developed heart at six weeks’ gestation.
Many women do not know they are pregnant so early, and abortion rights advocates estimate that 85 to 90 per cent of women needing an abortion in Texas are at least six weeks into pregnancy.
The new law was met with dismay by many in the United States and around the world as a major step backwards for women’s rights. It is expected to impact black women and other women of colour and those with low incomes the hardest, say pro-choice advocates.
In addition to effectively blocking abortion access – the law makes no exceptions for rape, sexual abuse or incest – it also allows Texans to sue an abortion provider or anyone else they suspect is “aiding and abetting” abortions after six weeks, with a $10,000 (£7,200) award to be granted for any lawsuit that successfully stops an abortion.
The Supreme Court did not step in to block the enactment of the law, and although justices said they were aware of “serious questions regarding the constitutionality of the Texas law”, it will remain in effect while legal challenges are brought.
On Wednesday, President Joe Biden said the law “blatantly violates the constitutional right established under Roe v Wade and upheld as precedent for nearly half a century”.