The US Justice Department is suing Texas over a new state law that bans most abortions, arguing it was enacted “in open defiance of the Constitution".
The lawsuit, filed on Thursday in federal court in Texas, asks a federal judge to declare the law invalid, “to enjoin its enforcement and to protect the rights that Texas has violated".
US Attorney General Merrick Garland said in public remarks from Washington on Thursday afternoon after the federal court filing: “The act is clearly unconstitutional under long-standing Supreme Court precedent.”
The Texas law, known as SB8, prohibits abortions once medical professionals can detect cardiac activity — usually around six weeks -- before some women know they’re pregnant.
The US Supreme Court last week let the Texas law stand.
The decision represented a major victory for social conservatives who have been trying to ban the procedure since the court's 1973 Roe v Wade decision established the constitutional right to abortion.
“The obvious and expressly acknowledged intention of this statutory scheme is to prevent women from exercising their constitutional rights,” Mr Garland said.
The Supreme Court's decision not to block the Texas law left abortion-rights activists worried that the court, on which conservatives hold a 6-3 majority, may be open to overturning Roe when it hears a case involving a Mississippi abortion ban this year.
Courts have blocked other states from imposing similar restrictions, but Texas’s law differs significantly because it leaves enforcement to private citizens through civil lawsuits instead of criminal prosecutors.
Pressure had been mounting on the Justice Department not only from the White House — President Joe Biden has said the law is “almost un-American” — but also from Democrats in Congress who wanted Mr Garland to take action.
This week, Mr Garland vowed the Justice Department would step in to enforce a federal law known as the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act.
That law, commonly known as the FACE Act, normally prohibits physically obstructing access to abortion clinics by blocking entrances or threatening to use force to intimidate or interfere with someone. It also prohibits damaging property at abortion clinics and other reproductive health centres.