Looming Texas law would allow anti-choice 'vigilantes' to sue anyone who 'aids or abets' an abortion
An activist protests in support of the right to have an abortion in Washington in January 2018 NORTH AMERICA/AFP/File / ALEX WONG

As part of an unprecedented wave of recent GOP attacks on reproductive rights across the United States, Republican Texas Gov. Greg Abbott is expected to sign a bill to not only outlaw ending a pregnancy as early as six weeks, but also allow anti-choice "vigilantes" to sue anyone who "aids or abets" an abortion that violates state law.

Texas' Republican-controlled state Legislature on Thursday gave final approval to Senate Bill 8, which Abbott celebrated on Twitter. It is yet another so-called "fetal heartbeat" measure, which medical experts say is a scientifically misleading phrase. If signed into law, it would ban abortions before many people know they are pregnant.

"Republicans in the Texas Legislature have pushed extreme bills to ban abortion and incentivize people to sue healthcare providers and anyone else who assists a pregnant person seeking abortion care."
—Ilyse Hogue, NARAL

Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights (CRR), noted in a statement that "this bill essentially opens the floodgates to allow anyone who is hostile to abortion to sue doctors and clinics, consuming their resources and forcing them to shut down."

Specifically, the bill would enable "any person, other than an officer or employee of a state or local governmental entity," to file a civil lawsuit against anyone who performs an abortion that is illegal in Texas or "knowingly engages in conduct that aids or abets the performance or inducement of an abortion, including paying for or reimbursing the costs of an abortion through insurance or otherwise... regardless of whether the person knew or should have known that the abortion" violates state law.

Currently, abortions are illegal in Texas after 20 weeks, with exceptions when a patient's life is in danger or severe fetal abnormalities have been detected. Though the pending law wouldn't punish patients who get abortions, anyone successfully sued under it could be forced to pay a minimum of $10,000 in "statutory damages."

"It's unprecedented, there's no question," Amy Hagstrom Miller, CEO of Whole Woman's Health, which operates four clinics in the state, told The Daily Beast. "The idea that just anybody should be able to police a highly trained physician and their staff—that any Joe on the street can make that claim—is just totally shocking."

Reproductive rights advocates in Texas and nationwide also pointed out that the Texas bill is just the latest extreme measure proposed or enacted this year with the aim of giving the right-wing majority U.S. Supreme Court the opportunity to reverse the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that affirmed the constitutional right to abortion.

"With their lack of power at the federal level, anti-choice lawmakers across the country are ramping up their attacks on reproductive freedom at the state level and cruelty appears to be the point," declared NARAL Pro-Choice America president Ilyse Hogue.

"Instead of focusing on delivering Texans much-needed relief following the Covid-19 pandemic and unprecedented power outages," Hogue continued, "Republicans in the Texas Legislature have pushed extreme bills to ban abortion and incentivize people to sue healthcare providers and anyone else who assists a pregnant person seeking abortion care."

"There's no low these legislators won't sink to in their efforts to gut Roe v. Wade and push abortion care as far out of reach as possible—regardless of the damage inflicted on the lives, health, and well-being of Texas women and families," she added.

CRR, in its statement, highlighted various other abortion restrictions that Texas legislators are considering:

  • Create a database of people who have had abortions;
  • Limit medication abortion to 49 days of pregnancy (before some people know they're pregnant);
  • Create a "trigger ban" intended to ban abortion entirely if Roe v. Wade is overturned;
  • Prohibit abortion based on a patient's reason for seeking it, such as a Down syndrome diagnosis; and
  • Require Texans to carry non-viable pregnancies to term.

"Every year, Texas lawmakers pass laws that make it harder for our patients to access abortion care, and harder for us to provide it," Hagstrom Miller said in a statement. "They are determined to legislate abortion out of existence."

"We see firsthand that Black and brown communities are hit the hardest by these oppressive laws and we know these laws do not reflect the values Texans hold," she added. "Our clinics are open, and we are committed to providing compassionate, professional abortion care in Texas."

Anticipating Abbott's signature, Northup of CRR vowed that "we will pursue all legal options to prevent this law from taking effect."

With 2021 on track to be "the most damaging anti-abortion state legislative session in a decade—and perhaps ever," according to an April analysis from the Guttmacher Institute, progressive activists and lawmakers have ramped up calls to #ReimagineRoe, treating it as a floor rather than a ceiling for reproductive rights and healthcare.