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Texas Abortion Providers Sue To Block Latest Ban On The Procedure

Abortion rights advocates gather on the south steps of the Capitol in 2013.
Abortion rights advocates gather on the south steps of the Capitol in 2013.

A group of abortion providers in Texas announced Tuesday that they filed a federal lawsuit challenging a state ban on abortions as early as six weeks into a pregnancy.

Earlier this year state lawmakers passed Senate Bill 8, which prohibits Texans from getting an abortion once a fetal heartbeat is detected. Experts say that could be as early as six weeks, which is before many women even know they are pregnant.

Abortion rights advocates say that if the law goes into effect it will essentially eliminate access to abortion in Texas.

Unlike other so called “heartbeat bills” across the country, though, Texas’ law was designed to not be enforced by the state. There are no criminal penalties for violating the ban on abortions after six weeks; instead, the law allows private citizens to sue anyone who helps a woman get an abortion.

SB 8 has broad criteria for who could be subject to these private lawsuits. And in practice, anyone — including someone who doesn’t even know the person who got an abortion — could sue the doctor who provided the procedure, as well as the nurses and clinic staff.

Civil liability would also extend to people who provide logistical or emotional support to a woman who gets an abortion, including family members, clergy and rape crisis counselors. In addition, the law holds people liable if they merely “intend” to help a woman seeking an abortion after six weeks.

Marc Hearron, the lead attorney representing plaintiffs in the case, told reporters Tuesday that he’s “never seen a law a like this” before.

“If this law takes effect, anti abortion protesters could use this law to harass clinics with endless lawsuits that consume their time and resources and could force them to shut down,” he said.

Hearron said the law could also intimidate friends, family and support networks out of helping people seeking an abortion out of fear of being sued.

Amy Hagstrom Miller, the president and CEO of Whole Woman’s Health, which is leading the lawsuit, said abortion providers are already under enough stress.

“Our staff teams and physicians are terrified. The teams are on edge and they are very worried," Hagstrom Miller said.

Advocates were also worried it will be hard to sue to stop the ban from going into effect because the state wouldn’t be enforcing it.

According to the filing, providers decided to name a slew of different defendants in the case — including every state court trial judge and county clerk in Texas, the Texas Medical Board, the Texas Board of Nursing, the Texas Board of Pharmacy, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, and Right to Life East Texas director Mark Lee Dickson, who plaintiffs say “has already openly called for people to sue their local abortion providers under S.B. 8.”

The ban is set to go into effect Sept. 1.

Copyright 2021 KUT 90.5. To see more, visit KUT 90.5.