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Merrick Garland, the US attorney-general, has vowed to crack down on attacks against reproductive health clinics across the country after Texas imposed draconian curbs on abortion in a controversial state law that the Supreme Court refused to block.
“The [justice] department will provide support from federal law enforcement when an abortion clinic or reproductive health centre is under attack,” Garland said in a statement on Monday, adding that officials had contacted US Attorney’s Offices and FBI field offices in Texas and other states.
“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,” he said referring to the 1994 Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances law.
Garland’s move follows outrage from many Democrats and even from some moderate Republicans at the Supreme Court’s decision on the Texas law, which seeks to ban abortions after roughly six weeks of pregnancy.
One of the most heavily criticised measures in the law would allow private citizens to sue people for providing abortions or facilitating abortions after six weeks of pregnancy, with the possibility of collecting a $10,000 reward.
This has triggered fears that healthcare providers, patients and advocates could face intimidation and violence. US president Joe Biden warned last week that the Texas law risked creating a “vigilante system” that was “almost un-American”.
Garland’s statement released on the Labor Day holiday highlights the urgency felt within the administration to challenge the Texas law, which is emerging as a social and political flashpoint in the US.
Several other conservative, Republican-led states have plans to follow Texas by imposing similar restrictions. Meanwhile, defenders of abortion rights are worried that the Supreme Court’s decision to allow the Texas law to stand could pave the way for it to overturn Roe vs Wade, the 1973 landmark ruling that established the constitutionality of a woman’s right to choose whether to have an abortion.
“Here you have [the Supreme Court] this year, this week, basically telling women in Texas that 85 per cent of them seeking abortion services cannot exercise their constitutional rights . . . and [it] basically greenlighted a law that is blatantly against Roe vs Wade,” said Amy Klobuchar, the Democratic senator from Minnesota, in a CNN interview on Sunday.