Abortion rights groups sue to block Texas law allowing citizens to sue providers

A group of abortion providers and abortion rights advocates filed suit in federal court on Tuesday to block a recently passed Texas law that allows for anyone in the U.S. to sue abortion providers or anyone else who helps someone get an abortion in Texas after the law’s proposed six-week limit.

The broad group of plaintiffs, led by the Center for Reproductive Rights, Planned Parenthood Federation of America, the American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Texas, and including multiple Texas abortion providers, including Whole Woman’s Health, is suing to block the law before it takes effect on Sept. 1.

The law, known as S.B. 8, bans abortions in Texas as early as six weeks into pregnancy — before many women even know they are pregnant. But unlike other states' anti-abortion laws, Texas' unique ban will be enforced through private citizens' lawsuits against abortion providers, rather than through state government. It includes first-of-its-kind language that allows anyone, even someone outside Texas, to sue an abortion provider or anyone else who helped someone get an abortion after the six-week limit for up to $10,000 per defendant.

Image: Protestors Rally Against Restrictive New Texas Abortion Law In Austin (Sergio Flores / Getty Images file)
Image: Protestors Rally Against Restrictive New Texas Abortion Law In Austin (Sergio Flores / Getty Images file)

The language would apply not just to clinics who provide actual abortion services, but to abortion funds and practical support organizations that provide women in need with money, transportation, lodging, recovery care, child care and a slew of other support needed when undergoing a procedure. Abortion groups who provide those services say the law would cripple their ability to operate.

Critics of the law have also argued it would essentially allow abortion opponents to flood the courts with lawsuits to harass doctors, patients, nurses, domestic violence counselors, and even a friend or parent who drove a woman to a clinic.

“If this oppressive law takes effect, it will decimate abortion access in Texas and that’s exactly what it is designed to do," said Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights, in a statement. "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. Worse, it will intimidate loved ones from providing support for fear of being sued.”

"We will pursue every legal avenue we can to block this and other pernicious laws,” she said.

Added Amy Hagstrom Miller, president and CEO of Whole Woman’s Health and Whole Woman’s Health Alliance, “When it comes to abortion access, we are living in two different Americas. With every barrier that has been enacted over the last 30 years in Texas, it’s nearly impossible for pregnant people to access the quality abortion care they need.”

The suit’s defendants include every state court trial judge and county clerk in Texas, the Texas Medical Board, the Texas Board of Nursing, the Texas Board of Pharmacy, the attorney general, and the Director of Right to Life East Texas, an anti-abortion group that has already called for people to sue their local abortion providers under S.B. 8.

The groups who filed the suit allege that the law violates Texans’ “constitutional right to privacy and liberty as established by Roe v. Wade” as well as the “constitutional 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.”

The suit also comes just weeks after the Supreme Court announced it would consider the legality of Mississippi's ban on most abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy — a move pro-abortion-rights advocates say means the newly conservative bench is eyeing an end to Roe v. Wade.