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Biden promises to “protect and defend” abortion rights against Texas ban

A new Texas law will make abortions illegal beyond six weeks after the Supreme Court refused to outlaw a loophole enabling individuals to sue abortion clinics and staff.

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Biden promises to “protect and defend” abortion rights against Texas ban
Sergio Flores Getty Images

On Wednesday President Joe Biden insisted that he would take action against a new Texas law that bans abortion procedures after six weeks of pregnancy. Despite calls from lawmakers and abortion rights activists, the Supreme Court refused to strike down the strict new law.

In his statement Biden wrote: “This extreme Texas law blatantly violates the constitutional right established under Roe v. Wade and upheld as precedent for nearly half a century.”

He added: "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."

Despite Biden’s pledge to “protect and defend” abortion rights against this attack on Roe v. Wade, the White House has not yet outlined what powers the President intends to use. The Supreme Court’s decision not to reverse the ban will be returned to later this year when it presides over a challenge on Mississippi’s 15-week abortion ban.

What is the new Texas law?

The abortion ban introduced in Texas follows the tenets of many so-called ‘heartbeat bills’ put forward by abortion opponents, which bans abortion as soon as cardiac activity is detectable. Typically that comes just six weeks into pregnancy, at which point most women do not even know they are pregnant.

Such strict restrictions on abortions would appear to fly in the face of Roe v. Wade which established a precedent of legalised abortions in 1973. The Supreme Court classified the right to choose to have an abortion as “fundamental” and required any future court challenges to be evaluated under the ‘strict scrutiny’ standard, making it difficult to be reversed.

However the Texas legislation gets around this by allowing individuals to bring civil lawsuits against abortion providers, and even against anyone found to have helped anyone get an abortion. This could see people fined at least $10,000 for driving someone to an appointment, with the Texas Right to Life organisation setting up a “whistleblower” website for Texans to submit anonymous tips on anyone they think is violating the new law.

In response, a coalition of abortion rights groups and abortion providers have launched a legal challenge, arguing that the new law "places a bounty on people who provide or aid abortions, inviting random strangers to sue them."

What can Biden do in response to the Texas abortion ban?

So far the White House has been fairly vague on what it intends to do to challenge the restrictions in Texas, instead choosing to fall back on old pledges made during the election campaign. While on the campaign trial Biden made comments calling for the codification of Roe v. Wade through Congress, rather than relying on a comparatively vague piece of judicial precedent.

The decision to allow the Texas law to stand has been attributed to the majority-conservative Supreme Court split that was implemented during the Trump administration. Currently six of the nine justices are considered ideologically conservative, leaving some to suggest that the best chance of reversing the abortion ban is to alter the make-up of the Supreme Court.

A number of Democrats have called for the number of justices to be changed to even the ideological balance, but Biden appears unwilling to push for any substantive changes. POLITICO report that the President “will wait” to hear the findings of a Supreme Court reform commission established earlier this year before deciding what steps to take.