House Judiciary Democrats urge DOJ to prosecute Texas abortion 'would-be vigilantes'

House Judiciary Democrats urge DOJ to prosecute Texas abortion 'would-be vigilantes'
© Greg Nash

Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee urged the Justice Department to prosecute “would-be vigilantes” attempting to enforce Texas’s recently enacted abortion ban.

In a letter to Attorney General Merrick GarlandMerrick GarlandGarland orders DOJ to prioritize violence on airplanes Buttigieg has high name recognition, favorability rating in Biden Cabinet: survey DOJ seeks to block merger of major sugar companies MORE on Tuesday, the lawmakers led by House Judiciary Chairman Jerry NadlerJerrold (Jerry) Lewis NadlerUnrequited rage: The demand for mob justice in the Rittenhouse trial Overnight Energy & Environment — Presented by American Clean Power — Democrats prepare to grill oil execs Merkley, Warren and Markey sound alarm over 'dirty' hydrogen provision in climate deal MORE (D-N.Y.) urged Garland to use the “full power” of his agency to “defend a woman’s constitutional right to abortion.”

“We urge you to take legal action up to and including the criminal prosecution of would-be vigilantes attempting to use the private right of action established by that blatantly unconstitutional law,” the lawmakers wrote. 

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The later came a day after Garland said the DOJ would explore “all options to challenge the Texas law. He added that the agency would provide support from federal law enforcement when abortion clinics and reproductive health centers are under attack.

The law, S.B. 8, bans abortions when a “fetal heartbeat” is detected, which usually occurs at six weeks in pregnancy. Because most women don't realize they are pregnant at six weeks, the law has effectively banned the procedure in almost all cases.

The measure has come under particular scrutiny for allowing private citizens to sue those who aid in or perform abortions in violation of the law, and to recover $10,000 and legal fees damages.

The Supreme Court voted 5-4 last Wednesday to turn down a request from abortion providers to block the law from taking effect.

In Tuesday’s letter, the lawmakers said the ability to sue is “the law’s most insidious feature.” The lawmakers further assailed the Supreme Court, saying it “thrust the citizens of Texas into a regime that is as unsettling as it is unconstitutional.”

“Two generations of women have come to rely on the right to choose an abortion. That choice is deeply private and should not in any way be intruded upon by any third party, let alone a vigilante seeking a payday from the state,” the lawmakers wrote.