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Judge Merrick Garland, shown during his confirmation hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington on Feb. 22, 2021, says the Justice Department is exploring “all options” to challenge Texas’s restrictive abortion law.
Judge Merrick Garland, shown during his confirmation hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington on Feb. 22, 2021, says the Justice Department is exploring “all options” to challenge Texas’s restrictive abortion law. (Demetrius Freeman/The Washington Post)

WASHINGTON — The Justice Department is exploring “all options” to challenge Texas’s restrictive abortion law, Attorney General Merrick Garland said Monday, vowing to provide support to abortion clinics that are “under attack” in the state and to protect those seeking and providing reproductive health services.

The move by the nation’s top law enforcement official comes just days after the Supreme Court refused to block a Texas abortion statute that bans the procedure as early as six weeks into pregnancy with no exceptions for rape or incest. The court’s action stands as the most serious threat to Roe v. Wade, the landmark ruling establishing a woman’s right to abortion, in nearly 50 years.

President Joe Biden has sharply criticized the high court’s decision, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., has pledged to call a vote later this month on legislation that would enshrine a woman’s right to an abortion into federal law.

“We will not tolerate violence against those seeking to obtain or provide reproductive health services, physical obstruction or property damage in violation of the FACE Act,” said Garland, referring to the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act, a 1994 law that prohibits threats and the obstruction of a person seeking reproductive health services or of providers.

Garland said the Justice Department has reached out to U.S. Attorneys’ offices and FBI field offices in Texas to “discuss our enforcement authorities.”

“The department will provide support from federal law enforcement when an abortion clinic or reproductive health center is under attack,” Garland said.

Garland’s move, like the new law, will probably reverberate well beyond Texas state lines. Republican officials in at least seven states across the country have suggested that they may change their states’ laws to mirror the legislation in Texas. And abortion activists expect more copycat bills to follow, as state legislatures this year have already enacted dozens of abortion restrictions.

Biden said last week that the department would be exploring options to challenge the law, and Garland said Monday that the department would do just that “to protect the constitutional rights of women and other persons, including access to an abortion.”

The Texas law also allows anyone to file a lawsuit against any other person who has aided someone in obtaining an abortion, with the potential for a $10,000 payoff.

Biden has denounced the Texas law as “almost un-American” and said it creates a “vigilante system” under which private citizens are empowered to police the ban.

“I have been and continue to be a strong supporter of Roe v. Wade, No. 1,” Biden said Friday morning. “And the most pernicious thing about the Texas law, it sort of creates a vigilante system where people get rewards to go out and to — “ He did not finish the thought.

He added that “it’s almost un-American, what we’re talking about,” emphasizing that he was referring to the Texas law and not to the broader debate over Roe. He notably did not use the word “abortion” in his remarks.

“I was told that there are possibilities within the existing law to have the Justice Department look and see whether there are things that can be done that can limit the independent action of individuals in enforcing ... a state law,” Biden said.

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