President Joe Biden on Friday called the new Texas law banning most abortions "un-American," telling reporters that the Department of Justice is investigating mechanisms that might block its enforcement.
“The most pernicious thing about the Texas law, it sort of creates a vigilante system where people get rewards to go out [and enforce it],” Biden said of the law, which prohibits abortions once a fetal heartbeat is detected, roughly six weeks into pregnancy and before many women know they are pregnant. “It just seems, I know this sounds ridiculous, almost un-American.”
The law's enforcement mechanism allows private citizens to sue abortion providers and anyone involved in an illegal abortion — a process Biden said the Department of Justice is investigating. Plaintiffs who bring a successful case could receive $10,000 and legal fees repaid if they win their case.
“I was told that there are possibilities within the existing law, to have the Justice Department look and see whether are there things that can be done, that can limit the independent action of individuals and enforcing a state law,” he said. “I don't know enough to give you an answer yet.”
Biden has promised a “whole-of-government effort” to respond to the Texas law. In a statement Thursday, he said the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Justice would take steps to uphold abortion rights in Texas and protect abortion providers from the “bizarre scheme” of allowing private citizens to sue.
The Supreme Court declined late Wednesday to block the Texas law in a 5-4 decision, though it did not rule on whether the law itself was constitutional. Democrats have assailed the court for using the “shadow docket” procedure, which allows the court to bypass its usual hearing process that leads to a formal opinion. The Senate Judiciary Committee announced Friday that it will examine the court’s use of the procedure.
“At a time when public confidence in government institutions has greatly eroded, we must examine not just the constitutional impact of allowing the Texas law to take effect, but also the conservative Court’s abuse of the shadow docket,” Senate Judiciary Chair Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said in a statement.
The court’s decision has prompted outcry from abortion advocates who worry the court has opened a legal loophole to curtail abortion rights established by the Supreme Court in its 1973 Roe v. Wade decision. Republican-controlled states like Arkansas, Florida and South Dakota are looking to follow Texas’ lead, considering similar laws to block abortions.
“I have directed the Unborn Child Advocate in my office to immediately review the new TX law and current South Dakota laws to make sure we have the strongest pro life laws on the books in SD,” South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem tweeted on Thursday.
The Supreme Court’s recent ruling is not a final say on the future of constitutional abortion rights. The justices are expected to formally hear a case this fall regarding a Mississippi state law that bans abortions at 15 weeks of pregnancy, which could potentially overturn Roe v. Wade.
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