On Thursday, the Biden Department of Justice filed a federal lawsuit against the state of Texas over its newly enacted heartbeat abortion ban, alleging it deprives "women in Texas of their constitutional rights" and conflicts with federal law.
The law, which went into effect this month, requires doctors to determine if a heartbeat is present, and it prohibits an abortion if one is detected. That typically occurs around six weeks of pregnancy. Because the new law hands enforcement to citizens – and allows them to sue abortion doctors – opponents have found it difficult to challenge in court.
"The Act is clearly unconstitutional under longstanding Supreme Court precedent," said Attorney General Merrick Garland. "The United States has the authority and responsibility to ensure that no state can deprive individuals of their constitutional rights through a legislative scheme specifically designed to prevent the vindication of those rights."
The lawsuit contends that the law "unlawfully prohibits women from exercising the constitutional right to a pre-viability abortion" and "conflicts with the statutory and constitutional responsibilities of the federal government." Further, the Texas law "exposes federal personnel" to "liability for carrying out their federal obligations," the lawsuit says.
The Justice Department, now headed by a pro-choice attorney general, has generally avoided the use of the word "heartbeat" when discussing the law, even though its name is the Texas Heartbeat Act and the text of the law uses the word "heartbeat" 17 times.
The DOJ lawsuit also mostly avoids the word "heartbeat," preferring "cardiac activity."
"S.B. 8 bans abortions performed by a physician licensed by the State of Texas if cardiac activity has been detected in the embryo or fetus," the suit says. "... An ultrasound can typically detect cardiac motion beginning at approximately six weeks of pregnancy."
Texas Right to Life expressed optimism that the law will withstand legal challenges.
"Pro-abortion activists have presented Biden's efforts as restoring 'women's rights.' On the contrary, the Texas Heartbeat Act advances women's rights because people have the right to their own bodies from the moment their bodies first exist in the womb," Texas Right to Life said in a statement. "Texans have been calling for stronger Pro-Life measures to protect preborn babies and provide real resources to pregnant mothers. The Texas Heartbeat Act is the next logical step in protecting preborn babies from the violence of abortion and defending the most vulnerable in our society."
Photo courtesy: ©Getty Images/Olga Kurbatova
Michael Foust has covered the intersection of faith and news for 20 years. His stories have appeared in Baptist Press, Christianity Today, The Christian Post, the Leaf-Chronicle, the Toronto Star and the Knoxville News-Sentinel.