SAN ANTONIO – The new abortion law signed by Gov. Greg Abbott this week not only bans abortion after a fetal heartbeat is heard in the womb but also provides a legal remedy to those who object to an illegally performed abortion. It’s a first-of-its-kind approach, putting abortion law compliance into the hands of citizens who, starting Sept. 1, will be able to sue anyone who enables an illegal abortion to take place in Texas.
This expansion of abortion limits appeals to right to life supporters, who say their fight to take down Roe vs. Wade is not over, but this is a good first step at the state level. Those fighting for abortion rights feel just the opposite. But both say their approach saves lives.
Carisa Lopez, the political director of the Texas Freedom Network, says women with a low income and women of color will be the first to be hurt, as only those with the means to go to the other states will be able to end a pregnancy after around six weeks.
“If you have the resources, you’re going to find a way. But if you don’t, you’re stuck, and you’re forced to either take matters into your own hands or forced to carry a pregnancy that you don’t want,” said Lopez.
Lopez says abortion is essential health care, and without it, people will die.
Rebecca Parma, the senior legislative associate for the Texas Right to Life, strongly disagrees.
“It’s going to save thousands of lives in Texas. So we’re really excited,” she said.
Texas Right to Life wants ultimately to see abortion illegal from the moment “the new human is created at the moment of conception.”
It’s the unique first-of-its-kind provision that offers private citizens the right to sue abortion providers and those who helped get an abortion performed outside of the fetal heartbeat criteria that has added a twist to the differences between the two groups.
It puts family members who knew an abortion was taking place after a fetal heartbeat was detected -- as well as doctors, clinicians, and rape crisis counselors -- in the line of legal fire. They could all be open to lawsuits filed by private citizens, and if they lose the case, they will be forced to pay at least $10,000 and attorney’s fees.
“The penalty the punishment is targeted toward is the abortionist, that person committing to the abortion and not the woman who is trying to obtain an abortion or does have an abortion,” Parma noted.
In contrast, Lopez said, “Clinics, nurses, doctors, friends and family of people who may have sought an abortion, it opens them up to frivolous harassing lawsuits and is an attempt to financially ruin them.”
Lopez said she feels that after a year of the courts being shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this new type of lawsuit could further clog the court system.
It’s important to note that the new fetal heartbeat law does not go into effect immediately. Currently, abortion in Texas is legal up until the 20th week. The new law would begin on Sept. 1. Parma says any lawsuit filed after that under the new law could be subject to all the standard justice rules and codes, including the frivolous lawsuit criteria.
The big sticking point is where this battle now will be fought. Because the enforcement is different, with the state no longer in charge of compliance -- and it’s removed from the state and placed in the hands of private citizens -- it complicates the ability of the abortion industry to file the sorts of challenges that generally would be filed.
But the Texas Freedom Network says it is going forward with efforts to elect public policymakers who are more sympathetic to abortion rights advocates and counting on the lawyers and litigators who are currently exploring every legal option to make sure that the new law is not enacted on Sept. 1.