AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — The Biden administration is suing Texas over a new state law that bans most abortions, arguing that it was enacted “in open defiance of the Constitution” and asking a judge to quickly declare the law invalid. The case filed Thursday by the Department of Justice is almost certainly destined to reach the Supreme Court, perhaps within a matter of weeks.
The high court has already been asked to weigh in on the law once. The justices voted 5-4 not to intervene to prevent it from taking effect, but they said further challenges were possible.
Here are some questions and answers about the law and the case:
What Exactly Does Texas’ Law Do?
Texas’ law, Senate Bill 8, prohibits abortions once medical professionals can detect cardiac activity, usually around six weeks. That’s before some women know they’re pregnant. Courts have blocked other states from imposing similar restrictions, but Texas’ law is different because it leaves enforcement up to private citizens through civil lawsuits instead of criminal prosecutors. That novel wrinkle made the law hard to challenge before it went into effect.
The law allows any private citizen to sue Texas abortion providers who violate it, as well as anyone who assists a a woman getting the procedure, including someone who just drives her to a clinic. Patients themselves, however, cannot be sued.
The law offers no exceptions in cases of rape or incent, which Republican Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has defended by falsely saying women still have “at least six weeks” to get an abortion. Six weeks of pregnancy does not mean a woman has six weeks to make a decision.
What Has Been the Impact So Far?
Just the threat of being sued for violating the law has meant some abortion providers in Texas have stopped offering abortions altogether, even those before six weeks. Other providers have continued to offer abortions but only those that comply with the law. That means they’ve had to turn patients away who are further along in their pregnancies or try to get them assistance outside of the state. Clinics in neighboring Oklahoma, and in nearby Kansas, have reported an influx of patients from Texas.
At a Trust Women clinic this week in Oklahoma City, around two-thirds of patients were from Texas, spokesman Zack Gingrich-Gaylord said. And Texas patients accounted for half of the 40 appointments this week at another location farther away in Wichita, Kansas. Appointments are booked through September.
Texas Right to Life, a group that helped push the law and set up a tip line to receive information about potential violations, said they’ve received no credible information that anyone is violating the law.
What Does the Justice Department Want?
The Justice Department wants a federal judge to declare the law invalid and prohibit its enforcement. That would allow clinics to return to the situation before the law took effect where they could provide abortions after the six-week mark.
The judge assigned to the case i