The war on abortion rights continues with GOP officials stopping at nothing to get their way. Republicans nationwide have passed “pro-life” bills subjecting those who miscarry or seek an abortion to punishment. Under Texas’s new abortion ban, known as the strictest of them all, ordinary people can file suit against anyone who helps someone they know of get an abortion, whether that be the clinic itself or those who transported a person to the clinic or doctor.
According to The New York Times, the provision passed the Texas State Legislature as part of a bill that bans abortions after a doctor detects a fetal heartbeat, which is usually at about six weeks of pregnancy. While many women often do not know they are pregnant during this time, states across the country have passed similar laws—however, Texas goes a little further. Instead of leaving enforcement up to government officials like other states, Texas has prohibited officials from enforcing the law and has the power to anyone including those outside of the state to sue those who violate it. In efforts to enforce its backward laws, Texas is even rewarding those who report these abortions with at least $10,000 per abortion reported.
“It’s completely inverting the legal system,” Stephen Vladeck, a constitutional law professor at the University of Texas at Austin told the Times. “It says the state is not going to be the one to enforce this law. Your neighbors are.”
So not only can ordinary citizens sue anyone getting an abortion but they do not have to be connected to them, just confirm that the abortion reported was done so successfully. Anyone involved in helping one obtain an abortion whether that be a family member, rape crisis counselors, and other medical professionals could be open to lawsuits, due to the broad language of the bill.
“Every citizen is now a private attorney general,” Josh Blackman, a constitutional law professor at South Texas College of Law Houston said. “You can have random people who are against abortion start suing tomorrow.”
Experts noted that the law also impacts privacy and other concerns including the “abuse of civil litigation.”
“If the barista at Starbucks overhears you talking about your abortion, and it was performed after six weeks, that barista is authorized to sue the clinic where you obtained the abortion and to sue any other person who helped you, like the Uber driver who took you there,” Melissa Murray, a law professor at New York University said.
While other states allow for citizens to sue in order to enforce laws themselves, those laws focus on issues like consumer protection and are in support of state enforcement not in lieu of it. Additionally, by offering a cash incentive to citizens, Texas is essentially bribing its citizens to violate the lives of others.
According to The Texas Tribune, proponents of the law hoped to get around legal challenges including abortion restrictions in the courts. Without officials enforcing the laws, abortion providers are unable to sue officials in connection to the restriction laws.
“It’s a very unique law and it’s a very clever law,” Blackman said. “Planned Parenthood can’t go to court and sue Attorney General [Ken] Paxton like they usually would because he has no role in enforcing the statute. They have to basically sit and wait to be sued.”
Prior to the new legislation, abortions were banned after 20 weeks with exceptions for certain cases. The new bill bans abortions after a fetal heartbeat has been detected and includes cases in which a woman was impregnated as a result of rape or incest. The only exception is for medical emergencies. More than 56,600 abortions were performed on Texas residents in 2019, according to state statistic—most of them in the first trimester, The Texas Tribune reported.
According to the Times, the law is difficult to challenge before it takes effect on Sept. 1 because it is difficult to narrow down who to sue in order to block it.
While Texas may be the first to pass a law that puts enforcing abortion laws directly in the hands of its citizens, it is likely not to be the last. With Pennsylvania and other states following suit on anti-choice laws, it's expected that other GOP populated states will attempt to advance their restrictive policies under the guise of “pro-life” with bribes as well.
Using the pandemic as a tool, Republican officials have attempted to ban abortion, claiming it was an unnecessary procedure that could wait as COVID-19 cases piled up— they are willing to go to any ends to get their way. Reproductive rights are fundamental human rights. No one should be coerced or gaslighted into making a decision that may not be what they want for their own body and health.
Policies that ban or limit abortion do not decrease the number of abortions, as some GOP officials believe. Instead, they restrict a woman’s right to her bodily autonomy and increase the number of unsafe abortions and maternal health problems that occur.