‘Very broad’: St. Mary’s Law professor discusses new Texas abortion law

‘The law is written to be very broad to cover anyone involved in the process at all,’ says professor Al Kauffman

A St. Mary's law professor says the new Texas abortion law allow anyone to sue a person who helps a woman get an abortion.
A St. Mary's law professor says the new Texas abortion law allow anyone to sue a person who helps a woman get an abortion.

St. Mary’s University School of Law Professor Al Kauffman spoke with KSAT about the legalities of the state’s newest abortion law.

Called a “heartbeat” bill by supporters, the Texas Tribune reports that medical experts say the term is misleading as the detectable “heartbeat” defined in the bill is just electrical impulses, not a true heartbeat. This happens at about six weeks, a point at which many women may not even realize they’re pregnant.

According to Planned Parenthood, about 85 to 90% of women who obtain abortions in Texas are at least six weeks along.

Unlike previous abortion restrictions, this one was designed not to be enforced by the state, in hopes to making it harder to be held up in court, the Texas Tribune reported.

Instead, anyone who isn’t an officer or employee of state or local government entities would be able to sue someone who either provided or helped a woman get an abortion after that six-week point.

“The law is very clear that the woman herself, the woman who has abortion performed on her is not liable,” Kauffman said. “It’s the doctor, the nurse, the clinic, anyone who refers her to the doctor, etc..”

Kaufmann said, “the law is written to be very broad to cover anyone involved in the process at all.”

While he doesn’t believe someone like an Uber driver who transports a woman to the procedure could be successfully sued, that doesn’t mean they would not still end up in court first, which he says “could certainly have an intimidating effect on anyone.”

However, he says it is not clear if someone who helps a woman get the procedure out of state could be liable under the new law.

“I think that that would be very unlikely that such a thing could be enforced,” he said. “But the bill certainly doesn’t say that you cannot sue for that.”

While the U.S. Supreme Court declined to block the law from taking effect on Sep. 1, it did not rule on its constitutionality. Kauffman expects the case will get back to the court “one way or another,” though such a case would face a significant hurdle in getting there.

Planned Parenthood and others can certainly bring the case, I don’t think question about that,” Kauffman said. “They’re having a little question figuring exactly who they’re going to sue, as I said, because that could be anyone who brought the lawsuits.”

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About the Authors:

Garrett Brnger is a reporter with KSAT 12.