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Reproductive Rights Organizations File Lawsuit Challenging Texas Abortion Law that Incentivizes Citizen Enforcement

On Tuesday, Abortion rights organizations filed a federal lawsuit aimed at blocking a Texas six-week abortion ban. The law would allow individuals to sue anyone thought to have helped someone obtain an abortion.

Whole Woman’s Health, Planned Parenthood, the Center for Reproductive Rights, the ACLU, and other parties are challenging the Texas law, which encourages citizens to enforce the ban by offering individuals a $10,000 award for every successful suit brought against someone aiding an abortion.

Private citizens would be empowered to sue anyone who helps a woman get an abortion after six weeks of pregnancy, including someone who offers financial assistance for the abortion, transportation to a clinic, or even “a sexual assault counselor who calls an abortion clinic on behalf of a 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 even know they are pregnant. Worse, it will intimidate loved ones from providing support for fear of being sued,” Nancy Northup, the president of the Center for Reproductive Rights, said of the law.

The organizations filing the lawsuit argue that “the burdens of the cruel law will fall most heavily on Black, Latinx, and indigenous patients who, because of systemic racism, already encounter substantial barriers to obtaining health care, and will face particular challenges and injuries if forced to attempt to seek care out of state or else carry an unwanted pregnancy to term.”

According to the Center for Reproductive Rights, between 85%-90% of people who get an abortion in Texas are already at least six weeks pregnant. This means that the Texas six-week ban would effectively illegalize all abortion in the state.

Because the ban will be enforced by private citizens rather than government officials, the law is much more difficult to challenge. Abortion rights organizations cannot sue the state officials usually responsible for enforcing such laws as they have in the past. For this reason, the plaintiffs of this lawsuit must instead sue a variety of other parties who may help enforce the law, such as state court trial judges, county clerks, and other judicial branch officials. Other defendants include the heads of the Texas State Board of Pharmacy, the Texas Medical Board, and the Texas Board of Nursing.

The law, SB 8, will go into effect in September if it is upheld.

“If the oppressive law takes effect, it will decimate abortion access in Texas—and that’s exactly what it is designed to do,” Northup said. “We will pursue every legal avenue we can to block this pernicious law.”

Sources: Center for Reproductive Rights 7/13/21; CNN 7/13/21; Washington Post 7/13/21; Center for Reproductive Rights 7/13/21l; New York Times 7/13/21; LegiScan 5/19/21

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