A New Texas Law Offers a $10,000 'Bounty' on Abortions

·5 min read
Photo credit: Sergio Flores - Getty Images
Photo credit: Sergio Flores - Getty Images
Photo credit: Sergio Flores - Getty Images
Photo credit: Sergio Flores - Getty Images

All over the country, restrictive abortion bans continue to be introduced at the state level. In Texas, a new fetal heartbeat bill goes one step further by incentivizing individuals to enforce the law with a $10,000 (or more) award to anyone who successfully sues someone providing or assisting a woman seeking an abortion after six weeks of pregnancy. Even religious leaders who provide emotional and spiritual counseling to patients considering abortion could be liable under the law.

“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 and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights, said in a statement to ELLE. “Worse, it will intimidate loved ones from providing support for fear of being sued.”

In response, a large group of abortion providers, abortion funds, support networks, doctors, and clergy members have filed a lawsuit seeking to block what they call an “unconstitutional ban” on abortion before the law takes effect. Here’s everything you need to know.

Texas banned abortions as early as six weeks, one of the most restrictive measures in the U.S.

In May, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott signed the “heartbeat ban” known as S.B. 8 that prohibits abortion when a fetal heartbeat is detected. This means that many women in Texas who don’t even know they are pregnant yet will not be allowed to get an abortion in the state. There are no exceptions for instances of rape or incest, but the bill offers a provision for “medical emergencies.”

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When Abbott signed the legislation, which goes into effect Sept. 1, at a closed-door ceremony, he said: “Our creator endowed us with the right to life and yet millions of children lose their right to life every year because of abortion. In Texas, we work to save those lives. That’s exactly what the Texas Legislature did this session.”

The Texas abortion ban opens people up to legal action.

The new law allows private citizens to sue anyone they believe may have been involved in helping a pregnant person get an abortion. Not only can literally anyone sue abortion funds and providers, but they can also also sue friends of someone seeking an abortion—including the person who drove them to their appointment. Religious leaders who provide spiritual counsel to a woman considering an abortion could also be held liable. Unsurprisingly, Black and Latinx communities will be disproportionately impacted. According to The Washington Post, nearly two-thirds of all Texas abortions in the last five years involved Black and Hispanic women.

Abortion rights activists call the law a “bounty.”

Texas is just one of several states that have passed extremely restrictive abortion laws, but this new bill is uniquely terrifying, because it gives private citizens the power to enforce the law. Those found guilty of performing or inducing an abortion, plus anyone who “aids or abets the performance or inducement of an abortion” in violation of the ban could face a $10,000 fine.

Although abortion patients themselves cannot be sued under the Texas law, almost anyone close to them can be (think a parent, an abusive significant other, or a healthcare provider). “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,” Northup said. “Worse, it will intimidate loved ones from providing support for fear of being sued.”

Abortion rights advocates and providers filed a lawsuit to block the law.

On Tuesday, a lawsuit was filed in Austin by Planned Parenthood, the Center for Reproductive Rights, the American Civil Liberties Union, and several other groups in an attempt to block the law.

“Texas legislators have tried for years to completely—and unconstitutionally—ban abortion,” Planned Parenthood President and CEO Alexis McGill Johnson said in a statement to ELLE. “Now they’re trying a new tactic: giving complete strangers the power to sue anyone who provides or helps someone get an abortion. This new law would open the floodgates to frivolous lawsuits designed to bankrupt health centers, harass providers, and isolate patients from anyone who would treat them with compassion as they seek out health care. The cruelty is the point—and we will not let it stand. Planned Parenthood will do everything in our power to fight S.B. 8 in court and ensure that every Texan is able to make their own decisions about their health and their future.”

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In order to block what the organizations behind the lawsuit call “unconstitutional” legislation, they are also reportedly attempting to block Texas judges from enforcing the law and court clerks from accepting the lawsuits.

Texas is not the only state with a dangerous abortion ban.

Abortion is still legal across the U.S., although restrictions and accessibility vary widely from state to state. Texas is one of just several states to introduce legislation that would make abortion illegal as soon as a fetus’ heartbeat can be detected. For more on which states have introduced and voted on these bills, read ELLE's explainer on fetal heartbeat bills here.

In May, the Supreme Court announced it would consider the legality of Mississippi’s ban on most abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy. Many abortion rights advocates believe this means the Supreme Court, which now has a conservative majority, will reconsider Roe v. Wade. For more on what the future of abortion access looks like, read ELLE’s explainer on new U.S. abortion laws here.

You can find five ways to help defend abortion rights right now here.

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