Garland Urges People to Report Acts of Violence Against Those Seeking Abortions In Texas

United States Attorney General Merrick Garland is beefing up efforts to protect people seeking abortion access and other reproductive health services, as Texas implements the nation's most restrictive anti-abortion rights law, which essentially deputizes citizens to report abortions that take place after six weeks.

"The department will provide support from federal law enforcement when an abortion clinic or reproductive health center is under attack," Garland said in a statement Monday. "We will not tolerate violence against those seeking to obtain or provide reproductive health services, physical obstruction or property damage in violation of the [Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act of 1994] FACE Act."

Garland said he has reached out to U.S. Attorneys' Offices and FBI field offices in Texas and across the country to discuss FACE Act enforcement efforts, as more states eye the Texas law as a model for restricting abortion access.

In a 5-4 vote last week, the U.S. Supreme Court allowed the new Texas law to take effect. It bans providers from terminating pregnancies after a fetal heartbeat can be detected—about six weeks from conception. Opponents have argued many women are not aware that they are pregnant that early in their pregnancies, so the law is overly burdensome.

The court left room open for further debate, allowing the law to take effect last week while it continues to be challenged in the courts on specifics.

The FACE Act, also known as the Access Act, allows people to peacefully protest outside of abortion clinics but adds federal criminal penalties for people who physically block access, lob threats of violence or stalk clinic workers, among other provisions.

The Texas law paves the way for "private right of action"—essentially a civil penalty rather than criminal punishment—against health care providers who perform abortions beyond the restricted timeframe. Private citizens can bring lawsuits of $10,000 or more in damages against anyone else who helps facilitate an abortion that violates the law.

Texas Right to Life, an anti-abortion rights group that supports the law, has already launched a website that encourages people to report anyone who violates the new six-week provision.

President Joe Biden, a Democrat who is Catholic, has vowed to fight the Texas law at the federal level.

"This extreme Texas law blatantly violates the constitutional right established under Roe v. Wade and upheld as precedent for nearly half a century," Biden said in a statement last week. "The Texas law will significantly impair women's access to the health care they need, particularly for communities of color and individuals with low incomes."

Garland said in his statement that the Justice Department is still exploring other ways to challenge the law but wanted to stress the protections provided under the FACE Act.

"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," he said. "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."

Texas abortion law merrick garland
Protesters hold up signs at a protest outside the Texas state capitol on May 29, 2021 in Austin, Texas. Thousands of protesters came out in response to a new bill outlawing abortions after a fetal heartbeat is detected signed on Wednesday by Texas Governor Greg Abbot. (Photo by Sergio Flores/Getty Images)