Attorney General Merrick Garland on Monday vowed to “protect” women seeking abortions in Texas, days after a new state law went into effect aiming to prohibit most abortions after six weeks.
While the Justice Department “urgently explores all options to challenge” Texas’ new law and “protect the constitutional rights of women and other persons, including access to an abortion,” the agency will enforce a 1994 law prohibiting the obstruction of abortion clinics, Garland said in a Sept. 6 statement.
Garland said that the Justice Department, while exploring potential challenges to the six-week fetal heartbeat bill known as SB8, would be enforcing a 1994 law called the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrance (FACE) Act.
“The FACE Act prohibits the use or threat of force and physical obstruction that injures, intimidates, or interferes with a person seeking to obtain or provide reproductive health services,” Garland said in his statement. “It also prohibits intentional property damage of a facility providing reproductive health services. The department has consistently obtained criminal and civil remedies for violations of the FACE Act since it was signed into law in 1994, and it will continue to do so now.”
The prohibition of intimidation aims at the provision in SB8 that allows private citizens to collect a $10,000 judgment for those who seek or aid in an abortion past the six-week point of conception.
“The Texas law can certainly fall into that category of a law that uses intimidation to deny people their basic Constitutional rights.” said pro-choice attorney and former Florida legislator Barry Silver.
Planned Parenthood welcomed the new position by the Justice Department.
“We welcome this announcement by the Department of Justice to help protect providers and health care centers in Texas, but we hope and expect that the administration also intends to use every other tool at its disposal to protect patients who have no access to abortion in Texas right now,” said Jacqueline Ayers, Vice President of Government Relations and Public Policy, Planned Parenthood Federation of America in a statement. “Texans are being denied their constitutional right to abortion after 6 weeks of pregnancy. The Department should continue to consider its authority under all relevant laws to restore access to abortion in Texas.”