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Oct. 19, 2021

The Department of Justice has filed a brief requesting the U.S. Supreme Court temporarily block a highly restrictive abortion law in Texas.

Supreme Court Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. has asked officials in Texas to file a response to the Justice Department by noon Thursday, meaning the High Court may act more quickly than normal, The New York Times reported.

The Justice Department also asked the Supreme Court to speed up the process and address the Texas law’s constitutionality this calendar year, The Times said. If that happens, an appeals court hearing scheduled for December would be bypassed.

The Texas law went into effect Sept. 1 and prohibits abortion once a fetal heartbeat is detected, which is usually around 6 weeks.

The Justice Department brief said the law “virtually eliminated access to abortion in Texas after six weeks of pregnancy. Texas has, in short, successfully nullified this court’s decisions within its borders.”

The Supreme Court legalized abortion with the Roe vs. Wade decision in 1972. Since then, the Justice Department brief said, the court has ruled many times that “a State may not prohibit any woman from making the ultimate decision to terminate her pregnancy before viability” – generally accepted as 22-24 weeks into the pregnancy.

The Texas law “defies those precedents by banning abortion long before viability — indeed, before many women even realize they are pregnant,” the brief said.

The law also has an unusual feature that allows a citizen of Texas to bring civil suits against anyone who helps a pregnant person seeking an abortion, if only by giving them a ride to a clinic.

A few days after the law went into effect, President Joe Biden said he would launch a wide-reaching federal effort to overturn the “bizarre” statute.

The U.S. Supreme Court declined by a 5-4 vote Sept. 1 to act on emergency appeals to put the law on hold. A federal judge in Texas ruled Oct. 6 that enforcement of the new law could be halted while it works its way through court. But the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals on Oct. 14 ruled that the law can remain in effect while it’s litigated.

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