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Abortion Groups File Lawsuit Directed At Texas Heartbeat Bill
Abortion law - stock photo "Concept shot. Gavel, stethoscope and scale of justice next to Abortion Law book." ericsphotography via Getty Images
ericsphotography via Getty Images

Abortion activists, providers, and supporters filed a lawsuit Tuesday directed at a Texas law that would allow citizens to sue individuals who are involved in certain illegal abortions.

The lawsuit is focused on S.B. 8, a bill that was signed into law by Republican Texas Governor Greg Abbott earlier this year. A press release by the Center for Productive Rights claims that the law, which would ban most abortions around six weeks of pregnancy, “blatantly violates Texans’ constitutional right to privacy and liberty as established by Roe v. Wade nearly 50 years ago.”

The release also focused on the rights of “abortion providers and supporters, including their right to equal protection under the law, and their First Amendment rights to free speech and access to the courts.” It noted that if the law goes into effect, abortion providers, staff at clinics, and abortion funds could be hit with multiple lawsuits that might eventually make them close down their services. 

The law noted that “[a]ny person, other than an officer or employee of a state or local governmental entity in this state, may bring a civil action against any person who: performs or induces an abortion in violation of this chapter; knowingly engages in conduct that aids or abets the performance or inducement of an abortion …” among other items. If a citizen sued another individual within the specifics of the law, they could receive an award of at least $10,000 if the lawsuit accomplishes its purpose.

The plaintiffs, “represented by the Center for Reproductive Rights, Planned Parenthood Federation of America, the Lawyering Project, the American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Texas, and Morrison & Foerster LL,” requested that the court prohibit the law from being able to go into effect. 

They are “suing a wide range of defendants who could be involved in the enforcement process. Those include judicial branch officials like every state court trial judge and county clerk, and leaders of groups like the Texas Medical Board, the Texas Board of Nursing and the Texas State Board of Pharmacy,” The New York Times reported.

As the Times reported:

It is unclear how, exactly, this strategy will play out. The group is suing judicial officials instead of executive ones because there is no one else to sue, not because the judges and clerks are considered bad actors, said Stephen Vladeck, a constitutional law professor at the University of Texas at Austin.

Judges may at once be put off by the notion that they are defendants, he said, and yet at the same time be troubled by the notion that a state could pass such restrictive anti-abortion measures and prevent those affected from being able to challenge them.

“Behind those procedural questions is a fairly fundamental question about whether states really can dramatically infringe constitutional rights and leave the victims without a remedy,” Professor Vladeck said. “If Texas can do this for abortion, then tomorrow California can do it for guns.”

Marva Sadler, director of clinical services for Whole Woman’s Health, which runs four clinics in Texas, said, “It’s really, really scary for me to imagine the people we pass through to go to work on a daily basis, who yell at us . . . now have the authority and ability to sue me at will.”

“Not only is it an attack on the access, but it absolutely feels like a personal threat as well,” she added.

“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.”

John Seago, legislative director at Texas Right to Life, said the lawsuit was “a desperate legal move,” per the Times.

“There is no reason to believe that this state judge is violating any federal laws or violating the Constitution by simply having jurisdiction over a lawsuit that the State of Texas has authorized,” he said. “Don’t miss the point of this bill: The point of the bill is that abortions are stopped after six weeks.”

The Texas “heartbeat bill” outlawed abortion after a fetal heartbeat is detected, stating that a “physician may not knowingly perform or induce an abortion on a pregnant woman if the physician detected a fetal heartbeat for the unborn child as required by [an earlier section] or failed to perform a test to detect a fetal heartbeat.” 

According to Healthline, “A fetal heartbeat may first be detected by a vaginal ultrasound as early as 5 1/2 to 6 weeks after gestation. That’s when a fetal pole, the first visible sign of a developing embryo, can sometimes be seen.”

In another move to protect unborn lives last month, Abbott signed a bill that would ban abortions if Roe v. Wade is overturned. 

As reported by The Daily Wire, “The bill would essentially end abortions in the state of Texas if a constitutional amendment is created that allows states to ban the practice, or if a court decides that states are able to take such action. It would potentially make Texas one of the first states in the nation to take the bold step in banning the procedure.”

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