Now that the Supreme Court has removed the right to obtain an abortion and handed the control of wombs over to state politicians, conservatives are moving onto the next step: How can they compel forced birth if there’s even one blue state out there still making abortion available? The answer they’ve found is based on the Texas law paying bounties for anyone who has “aided and abetted” obtaining an abortion.
That Texas bounty law was specifically upheld by the Supreme Court in a ruling last December. That included the court greenlighting the bounty scheme; one where anyone, absolutely anyone, is empowered to accuse their relative, neighbor, or a complete stranger of assisting in obtaining an abortion. It “deputizes” everyone with the power to sue and it provides a big payday, allowing them to collect a cash judgement of $10,000, plus all legal costs, from those they sue. And if they happen to lose, or if it turns out the person accused had nothing at all to do with providing an abortion for anyone, the vigilante deputy who lodged the suit in the first place receives absolutely no penalty. They don’t even have to cover the accused’s legal fees.
It’s a system that is absolutely designed to turn the courts into an instrument of harassment, with big incentives to file suits, and no penalties for being wrong. It is a system built for the purpose of creating “witch hunts” that make life impossible. And that threat is exactly what Republicans are now planning to extend to everyone. No matter where they live.
As The Washington Post reports, conservative groups are drafting model legislation, based on the Texas law, for distribution around the country.
According to Peter Breen, vice president and senior counsel for the Thomas More Society, “Just because you jump across a state line doesn’t mean your home state doesn’t have jurisdiction. It’s not a free abortion card when you drive across the state line.”
Republicans don’t seem to be suggesting pregnancy tests at every state boundary, or requiring every woman to wear a GPS anklet. So far. Instead, they’re suggesting a law that allows every single person with even the vaguest connection to someone who seeks an abortion to be bankrupted and harassed without limit.
There’s absolutely no doubt that if Republicans capture the House and Senate, there will be a nationwide ban on all abortions. But Republicans aren’t waiting. They want people in search of an abortion to have no alternatives. No opportunity to control their lives.
The Texas law is genuinely extraordinary. It empowers anyone to determine whether they believe that a person was involved in assisting with an abortion, removing all regulation or oversight from these decisions. It then allows anyone, in or out of Texas, to file suits charging anyone, in or out of Texas, with helping someone in Texas to obtain an abortion. That doesn’t have to be the doctor or nurse who performed the procedure or provided the pill. It can be a friend who drove them to the clinic. Or a relative who gave them the name of a doctor. Or someone five states away who provided funds to keep a clinic in operation. Anyone who made that procedure possible is open to suit.
The Texas law has already become the model for other legislation, like the Florida bill pushed by Gov. Ron DeSantis that would allow teachers to be sued for teaching any topic not on the state’s approved list, and the Oklahoma bill that would allow librarians to be sued for $10,000 for each banned book on their shelves.
Part of the reason these laws are written the way they are is not just because they generate 300 million potential bounty hunters who don’t have to do anything more than sit on their couch and level a finger, but because they don’t leave a clear target for a countersuit. After all, it’s not Texas bringing these suits. It’s the individual vigilantes. Since the Supreme Court allowed the Texas law to stand without comment, it’s absolutely unclear who has standing to oppose these laws and even who they would sue. At present, it seems the courts would allow each suit to be challenged one by one, but not the underlying law.
All of these ideas originated with a Texas group called Life Dynamics, led by pastor Mark Crutcher. His “Spies for Life” program seemed like the most out-there idea at the extreme edge of the absurd a decade ago. Under these laws, turning neighbor against neighbor and providing monetary incentives to spy on everyone you know is considered a good thing. There’s not even a limit that prevents piling on. On hearing that someone had obtained an abortion, everyone in Texas—everyone in the country—could each sue everyone involved in providing that abortion.
And why stop there? What about the people who educated the doctors and nurses? Aren’t they also responsible? The fast food worker who fed them along route. The website that gave them directions to a clinic. The company that made the car. The person who made an encouraging Twitter comment. The parent who failed to instruct proper state-approved morality. The high school teacher who taught about human rights and individual liberty. Who isn’t subject to suit in a system where every win brings big cash rewards and every failure is just a shrug?
Abortion rights groups have already suggested that women stop using applications that track their menstrual cycle and take extreme care in even seeking information about abortion or contraceptives. The discovery that appointments scheduled at Planned Parenthood can be obtained through a link to Facebook is only another reminder that things people took as granted two weeks ago are now a very big deal. A basic human right has been stripped away. Now the jackals are circling.
Considering how Republicans are trying to turn every person in America into a vigilante who can make endless accusations against anyone who might have any connection to an abortion, there may not be a level of paranoia high enough.
Election law attorney Adam Bonin joins Daily Kos Elections’ The Downballot podcast to talk about what moves Democrats can make