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By Andrew Chung
(Reuters) - President Joe Biden's administration on Friday said it will ask the U.S. Supreme Court to block a restrictive Texas law that imposes a near-total ban on abortion after a federal appeals court reinstated the law.
The U.S. Justice Department will ask the Supreme Court, which has a 6-3 conservative majority, to reverse the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals' decision to lift a judge's order blocking the law, while litigation over the dispute continues, a spokesman said.
The Texas measure, which bans abortion after about six weeks of pregnancy, took effect on Sept. 1. It makes an exception for a documented medical emergency but not for cases of rape or incest.
The law is unusual in that it gives private citizens the power to enforce it by enabling them to sue anyone who performs or assists a woman in getting an abortion after cardiac activity is detected in the embryo. That feature has helped shield the law from being immediately blocked as it made it more difficult to directly sue the state.
Critics of the law have said this provision - which provides monetary awards for those whose lawsuits are successful - lets people act as anti-abortion bounty hunters.
The Justice Department sued Texas over the abortion law last month, arguing that the law impedes women from exercising their constitutional right to terminate a pregnancy as recognized in the Supreme Court's landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling that legalized abortion nationwide. The department also argued that the law improperly interferes with the operations of the federal government to provide abortion-related services.
In his ruling blocking the law on Oct. 6, U.S. District Judge Robert Pitman in Austin, Texas, found that the law was likely unconstitutional and designed to avoid judicial scrutiny. The judge said he would "not sanction one more day of this offensive deprivation of such an important right."
The Supreme Court previously allowed the law to be enforced in a separate challenge to the ban brought by abortion providers. In that 5-4 decision on Sept. 1, conservative Chief Justice John Roberts expressed skepticism about how the law is enforced.
The Texas measure prohibits abortion at a point when many women do not even realize they are pregnant. Under the law, individual citizens can be awarded a minimum of $10,000 for bringing successful lawsuits against those who perform or help others obtain an abortion that violates the ban.
The Supreme Court already is set to consider a major abortion case on Dec. 1 in a dispute centering on Mississippi's 15-week abortion ban in which that state has asked the justices to overturn Roe v. Wade. A ruling is due by the end of June 2022.
(Reporting by Andrew Chung and Brendan O'Brien; Additional reporting by Sarah Lynch; Editing by Daniel Wallis and Jonathan Oatis)