Texas AG’s office sends mixed signals about whether it can fine nonprofits that pay for abortions
Ken Paxton / Texas Attorney General's Office

A federal judge heard arguments Tuesday about Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s role in enforcing the state’s abortion laws — and whether Paxton should be called to the stand to explain things himself.

The lawsuit was brought by a group of nonprofits, called abortion funds, that help Texans pay for abortions in states where the procedure remains legal. The abortion funds argue that Paxton’s statements since the overturn of Roe v. Wade, coupled with the actions of conservative lawmakers, have made them so fearful of potential criminal and civil penalties that they have stopped their work.

They have asked U.S. District Judge Robert Pitman for a preliminary injunction that would stop Paxton from pursuing criminal charges or civil penalties against abortion funds. The state has countered that their fear of prosecution is “self-imposed,” as the attorney general cannot bring criminal charges and the law that allows him to bring civil penalties does not apply to abortion funds.

At the end of the seven-hour hearing Tuesday, Pitman noted that while attorneys for the state had repeatedly implied that the abortion funds had “nothing to worry about,” they had stopped short of saying so directly.

Pitman is expected to rule on the request for a preliminary injunction in the coming weeks but in the meantime is also considering a motion to require Paxton to testify himself. Before the hearing Tuesday, Pitman quashed a subpoena seeking the attorney general’s testimony, but lawyers for the plaintiffs have asked him to reconsider. Paxton fled his home Monday to avoid being served with the original subpoena.

The lawsuit also seeks clarity on whether a Texas-based abortion provider can perform abortions for Texans in other states where the procedure remains legal, or provide telehealth services from Texas to patients in other states.

On that question, the attorney for the state was even less definitive about whether the attorney general would try to enforce the civil penalties in the law, saying that situation was not amenable to a clear “up or down” answer but would have to be handled on a case-by-case basis.