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Justice Department Promises To Protect People Who Seek Abortions in Texas

U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland delivers remarks on voting rights at the Department of Justice on Friday.
U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland

You can read this story in Spanish by clicking here.

This story was updated at 9:51pm CST.

U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland said Monday that the Justice Department will protect people trying to obtain or provide abortions in Texas, in the wake of the state's new restrictive abortion law.

Senate Bill 8 — often called the "heartbeat bill" by supporters — effectively bans abortions after six weeks, well before many people even know they are pregnant. Physicians who specialize in reproductive health say the term “fetal heartbeat” used in the legislation is misleading because there is no cardiovascular system or a functional heart six weeks into pregnancy.

Garland said his department will urgently explore all options to challenge the law. In the meantime, he said it will continue to protect the rights of people seeking access to abortion under the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances (FACE) Act of 1994.

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. It also prohibits intentional property damage of a facility providing reproductive health services.

“The department will provide support from federal law enforcement when an abortion clinic or reproductive health center is under attack. We have reached out to U.S. Attorneys’ Offices and FBI field offices in Texas and across the country to discuss our enforcement authorities," the statement explained.

"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," it added.

Garland's vow came less than a week after the Texas law took effect.

Critics, including the Biden administration, said the law was at odds with the U.S. Supreme Court's precedents. The court has twice refused to challenge the legality of the law but its decision on Sept. 1 left the door open for future legal challenges.

Critics also condemned the law for deputizing private citizens to sue anyone who performs an abortion or “aids and abets” a procedure.

Makayla Montoya Frazier, founder of the Buckle Bunnies Fund, a group that helps fund abortions in Texas, agreed with that criticism. She told TPR that "they're hunting us, and they're waiting for us to make a move. Which is really dangerous. ... But also, they empowered us even more, to fight back. And to just do this all to spite them directly."

In the days after the law took effect, Planned Parenthood clinics in Texas halted abortion services, and other local organizations advised people on how to obtain abortions out of state. Two Texas-based dating platforms, Match and Bumble, raised funds to help Texans access abortion services.

Last week, with the law now in effect, the North Texas Alliance to Reduce Unintended Pregnancy in Teens said they're motivated to hone their message of teen pregnancy prevention. The nonprofit seeks to normalize conversations about sexual health and provide resources to teens and parents to reduce the rate of teen pregnancy.

Some Christian adoption agencies in North Texas expressed hope that the law would inspire new mothers to choose adoption over abortion.

The San Antonio Coalition For Life said it will continue to offer “sidewalk counseling” to people outside three local abortion clinics to provide information about the law.

The Christian group Texas Right to Life also celebrated the "heartbeat bill," though a recent court ruling in Travis County blocked it from suing some Planned Parenthood clinics if whistleblowers report people seeking abortions or health care workers providing abortion services.

Bonnie Petrie, Jackie Velez, Bri Kirkham, Jiawen Chen, Lauren Terrazas, Brian Kirkpatrick and KERA's Bret Jaspers contributed to this report.

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