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The US Department of Justice is poised to file a lawsuit against Texas challenging a new law that severely restricts access to abortions, two people familiar with the matter said on Wednesday.
The expected legal challenge from the DoJ will probably stoke tensions between the Biden administration and the Republican-led state government and legislature in Texas, which championed the bill despite criticism that it is was draconian.
The lawsuit, which was first reported by the Wall Street Journal, could be launched as early as Thursday but the exact timing remained unclear. The justice department and the White House declined to comment.
On Monday, Merrick Garland, the US attorney-general, said his agency was “urgently” exploring “all options” to challenge the Texas abortion law, “in order to protect the constitutional rights of women and other persons, including access to an abortion”.
At the same time, Garland promised to increase the enforcement of federal law against violence or intimidation aimed at abortion clinics and women seeking an abortion.
The justice department’s drive to challenge the Texas law accelerated sharply after the Supreme Court, which is now dominated by conservative justices, declined to block the law when it took effect last week.
The Supreme Court’s decision has raised concerns that it could eventually overturn the legal precedent set by the 1973 Roe vs Wade case, which enshrined the constitutional right to an abortion, according to legal scholars, activists and Democratic lawmakers.
The Texas law is considered extreme even by conservative standards. It bans abortion after six weeks of pregnancy, before many women know that they are pregnant, without any exceptions for rape or incest. The law also allows individuals to report people to authorities for helping women get abortions, and potentially receive a $10,000 reward.
President Joe Biden blasted the decision after the law took effect last week. “The Texas law will significantly impair women’s access to the healthcare they need, particularly for communities of colour and individuals with low incomes,” he said.
“My administration is deeply committed to the constitutional right established in Roe vs Wade nearly five decades ago and will protect and defend that right,” he said.
Some Republican governors have praised the Texas law and even vowed to follow with their own additional restrictions on abortion. But many in the party at the national level are concerned that it could alienate moderate voters.
Greg Abbott, the Republican governor of Texas, sought to defend the law this week but triggered another furore by insisting that he would try to “eliminate all rapists from the streets of Texas” rather than loosen the abortion curbs.
Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, fired back: “If Governor Abbott has a means of eliminating all rapists or all rape from the United States, then there’ll be bipartisan support for that.”
Some Democrats have been pushing for Congress to pass legislation to codify abortion rights as a way of pre-empting any Supreme Court move to strike down Roe vs Wade.
While such a bill would probably pass the House of Representatives, it would struggle to clear the 60-vote supermajority threshold required to advance in the Senate.