A new provision that passed the Texas State Legislature spring is one of the most aggressive anti-abortion laws in recent history. The provision, which takes effect on September 1, allows just about anyone in the U.S. to sue anyone who helps a woman get an abortion after a doctor detects a fetal heartbeat, usually about six weeks into the pregnancy.
Those who are successful in court will be awarded at least $10,000 from the state.
That means that just about anyone involved in the procedure can face legal consequences. The doctor, parent who gave permission, the abortion clinic, a friend who gave a ride, or the person who paid for the procedure could all be sued for participating.
The only person that can't be sued for the procedure is the patient.
"The state has put a bounty on the head of any person or entity who so much as gives a patient money for an abortion after six weeks of pregnancy, before most people know they are pregnant," Nancy Northup, president of the Center for Reproductive Rights, said in a statement. "Worse, it will intimidate loved ones from providing support for fear of being sued."
A new abortion law in Texas effectively deputizes citizens to enforce it — a legal innovation with broad implicatio… https://t.co/9s68tOw0yy— The New York Times (@The New York Times)1625832904.0
Suits can be brought up by just about anyone whether it's an anti-abortion activist on the other side of the country or a disapproving parent. The law is especially out-of-the-box because instead of allowing the state to police illegal abortions it deputizes and awards the average citizen to be the enforcer.
"Our creator endowed us with the right to life and yet millions of children lose their right to life every year because of abortion," Texas Republican Governor Greg Abbott said when he signed the legislation at a closed-door ceremony in May. "In Texas, we work to save those lives. That's exactly what the Texas Legislature did this session."
Heartbeat bill: ✅ Today @GregAbbott_TX signed the heartbeat bill into law — banning abortions the moment an unborn… https://t.co/rG3ejsz2n7— Texans for Abbott (@Texans for Abbott)1621442412.0
The law is also under scrutiny because it deems any abortion that happens after a fetal heartbeat can be heard is determined to be illegal. That's in sharp contrast to federal protections that currently allow abortion to take place until the fetus is able to survive out of the womb, which is at about 23 to 24 weeks.
Six-week bans have been passed in other states but they've all been blocked as they make their way through the court system.
"It's completely inverting the legal system," Stephen Vladeck, a constitutional law professor at the University of Texas at Austin, told The New York Times. "It says the state is not going to be the one to enforce this law. Your neighbors are."
Abortion rights advocates and providers filed a lawsuit in Texas on Tuesday to block the law. The large group of plaintiffs includes the Center for Reproductive Rights, Planned Parenthood Federation of America, the American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Texas, and multiple Texas abortion providers.
BREAKING: We’re suing Texas over its blatantly unconstitutional abortion ban. Senate Bill 8 is extremely dangerous… https://t.co/ViRpEJ8e74— ACLU (@ACLU)1626188914.0
The ACLU says that the law encourages "bounty hunters" to enforce the law.
"SB 8 would allow anyone — including anti-abortion activists who have no connection to the patient to act as bounty hunters — to take doctors, health centers, and anyone who helps another person accesses abortion to court to collect at least $10,000 for each abortion if they win," the organization said in a statement.
The lawsuit comes weeks after the Supreme Court announced it would consider the legality of Mississippi's ban on most abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy. Some abortion advocates believe that this is a signal the conservative bench is eyeing to overturn Rowe v. Wade.
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