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Justice Department Will ‘Protect’ Texans Seeking Abortions, Says US Attorney General Merrick Garland

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WASHINGTON (CBSDFW.COM/AP) – The Justice Department said Monday, Sept. 6, it will not tolerate violence against anyone who is trying to obtain an abortion in Texas as federal officials explore options to challenge a new state law that bans most abortions.

Attorney General Merrick Garland said the Justice Department would “protect those seeking to obtain or provide reproductive health services” under a federal law known as the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act.

Garland said in a statement federal prosecutors are still urgently exploring options to challenge the Texas law. He said the Justice Department would enforce the federal law “in order to protect the constitutional rights of women and other persons, including access to an abortion.”

The federal law, commonly known as the FACE Act, prohibits physically obstructing or using the threat of force to intimidate or interfere with a person seeking reproductive health services.

The law also prohibits damaging property at abortion clinics and other reproductive health centers.

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The new Texas law prohibits abortions once medical professionals can detect cardiac activity, usually around six weeks — before some women know they’re pregnant. Courts have blocked other states from imposing similar restrictions, but Texas’ law differs significantly because it leaves enforcement up to private citizens through lawsuits instead of criminal prosecutors.

Justice Department officials have also been in contact with U.S. attorneys in Texas and the FBI field offices in the state to discuss enforcing the federal provisions.

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

READ MERRICK GARLAND’S FULL STATEMENT HERE

“While the Justice Department urgently explores all options to challenge Texas SB8 in order to protect the constitutional rights of women and other persons, including access to an abortion, we will continue to protect those seeking to obtain or provide reproductive health services pursuant to our criminal and civil enforcement of the FACE Act, 18 U.S.C. § 248.

“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 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.

“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.

“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.”

Jonathan Saenz, President of the group Texas Values, released the following statement responding to Garland’s statement:

“The Texas Heartbeat law is not impacted in anyway by the federal law called the FACE Act that Attorney General Merrick Garland mentioned today in some desperate attempt to suggest to women in the state of Texas that this federal law allows abortionists to get around state law. If that’s what Merrick Garland is trying to do I believe it is misleading and unethical on his part. The FACE Act is about rules and regulations that relate to a woman entering an abortion clinic. A woman in Texas can enter an abortion clinic all she wants, but once she gets inside that clinic, the abortionist must follow the Texas Heartbeat law – if a preborn baby’s heartbeat is detected, that life must be protected.”

(© Copyright 2021 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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