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Justice Department Promises To Protect Those Seeking 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 delivers remarks on voting rights at the Department of Justice on Friday.

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.

The state law effectively bans abortions once a fetal heartbeat is detected, which can happen as early as six weeks into a 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, effectively banning abortions after six weeks, well before many women even know they are pregnant.

Critics, including the Biden administration, said that 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 women on how to obtain abortions out of state. Two Texas-based dating platforms, Match and Bumble, raised funds to help Texans access abortion services. And some Christian adoption agencies expressed hope that the law would inspire new mothers to choose adoption over abortion.

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

Copyright 2021 Texas Public Radio. To see more, visit Texas Public Radio.