Attorney General Garland Braces for Republican Onslaught on Abortion

The onetime Supreme Court nominee regroups and readies for court battles to come as red states seek other ways to restrict women’s rights

Immediately following the upheaval of Friday’s Supreme Court decision overturning the constitutional right to abortion, Attorney General Merrick Garland showed his readiness to resist the onslaught of abortion bans from red states. 

The Justice Department Garland oversees also signaled that it intends to challenge states seeking to penalize women for traveling out of state for an abortion or accessing FDA-approved abortion pills by mail.

Famously, Garland was denied a seat on the Supreme Court when Senate Republicans refused to schedule a vote or so much as hold hearings on his 2016 nomination to the high court by President Obama. A President Hillary Clinton would almost certainly have broken the logjam in Garland’s favor. Instead the 69 year-old former U.S. Court of Appeals judge turned A.G. finds himself fighting a war on multiple fronts to protect what remains of a woman’s constitutional right to choose.  

Abortion is now banned or soon-to-be-banned in 13 states since the Supreme Court’s 6-3 decision overturned Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey and held that the right to abortion is no longer protected by the Constitution. 

In the coming weeks and months, nearly half states in the country will contemplate an outright ban or severe restrictions to the medical procedure. 

More than half of abortions in the U.S. are done with pills, in particular the medication Mifepristone, according to a survey by the Guttmacher Institute, an abortion-rights research group.

Nevertheless, nearly half the states in the country have cracked down on Mifepristone, which the FDA has determined can be safely used up to the first 10 weeks of pregnancy. In Louisiana and Tennessee, anyone caught mailing abortion pills is subject to a hefty fine and lengthy imprisonment.

During COVID, the FDA loosened restrictions on access to abortion pills, allowing patients to get the drugs through telemedicine and receive them by mail, so long as it is permitted under state law. Previously, a patient would have needed to receive the medication in person from a hospital or doctor’s office, Axios reported

On abortion pills, Garland appeared to draw a line in the sand, admonishing that “States may not ban Mifepristone based on disagreement with the FDA’s expert judgment about its safety and efficacy.”

The A.G.’s statement on the Supreme Court Ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson  reiterated Constitutional guarantees taken for granted only days ago.

“We recognize that traveling to obtain reproductive care may not be feasible in many circumstances,” Garland said. “But under bedrock constitutional principles, women who reside in states that have banned access to comprehensive reproductive care must remain free to seek that care in states where it is legal.”

In signaling his readiness to battle in court, Garland appeared to warn lawmakers in red states that “the Constitution continues to restrict states’ authority to ban reproductive services provided outside their borders.”

Should these legislators contemplate a crackdown on reproductive healthcare providers, Garland further argued that the First Amendment protects the freedom of Americans in states where abortion is banned “to inform and counsel each other about the reproductive care that is available in other states.”

He continued, “Furthermore, federal agencies may continue to provide reproductive health services to the extent authorized by federal law. And federal employees who carry out their duties by providing such services must be allowed to do so free from the threat of liability.”

The A.G. also warned that the DOJ will continue to enforce the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act, which bars obstructing access to reproductive health services “through violence, threats of violence, or property damage.”

Since June 24, when the Court overturned the long-held precedent of a woman’s right to choose, abortion bans have taken effect in Texas, Ohio, Tennessee, Missouri, Utah, Kentucky, Oklahoma, Wyoming, Idaho,South Dakota, Arkansas, Alabama and Mississippi. In the weeks and months to come, right-leaning state legislatures are expected to pass similar bans in Georgia, Louisiana, Indiana, Iowa, and West Virginia, the Washington Post reports. 

Key battleground states including Pennsylvania, Virginia, North Carolina, Arizona, and Florida, are among those in which abortion bans or tighter restrictions on access will be up for debate. 

“Few rights are more central to individual freedom than the right to control one’s own body,” Garland said. “The Justice Department will use every tool at our disposal to protect reproductive freedom.”


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