A coalition of abortion providers and their supporters filed a federal lawsuit on Tuesday to challenge a new Texas law that would allow individuals to sue abortion clinics, doctors and anyone helping a woman get an abortion in the state.
The unusual provision, which passed the State Legislature this spring, was part of a bill that bans abortion after a doctor detects a fetal heartbeat, usually around six weeks of pregnancy. It effectively allows ordinary people, including those outside Texas, to sue clinics and others who violate the law, and to potentially be awarded at least $10,000 per illegal abortion.
Many states have passed six-week abortion bans, and abortion rights supporters have successfully challenged them in court by suing government officials charged with enforcing the laws, often in the state’s executive branches. But the ban in Texas prevents those state officials from enforcing it, posing unique legal challenges to abortion rights supporters who want to stop the law from taking effect on Sept. 1.
The plaintiffs — who are led by Whole Woman’s Health and include clinics, doctors and clergy, as well as groups that help women pay for abortions — are instead suing a wide range of defendants who could be involved in the enforcement process. Those include judicial branch officials like every state court trial judge and county clerk, and leaders of groups like the Texas Medical Board, the Texas Board of Nursing and the Texas State Board of Pharmacy.
The Texas case is the latest high-stakes battle over abortion in the United States, and comes with potential national implications. Ultimately what is at stake is the six-week abortion ban itself, which if enforced would be the earliest abortion ban in the country.
Many women do not know they are pregnant before six weeks, and, according to a joint statement about the lawsuit from groups that support abortion rights, about 85 percent of women who obtain abortions in Texas do so after about six weeks of pregnancy.
Some of the most significant abortion laws in the country started in Texas, she said, including Roe v. Wade, the 1973 ruling that established federal protection for abortion, and the Whole Woman’s Health decision in 2016, when the Supreme Court struck down part of a Texas law that could have drastically reduced the number of abortion clinics in the state.