Wednesday, July 14, 2021

Texas abortion law, which citizens can enforce, draws suit

More than 20 Texas abortion providers filed suit against state officials Tuesday in response to a recently passed law with one of the nation's most restrictive abortion limitations. 

"Known as the 'heartbeat bill,' [it] was heavily criticized because it limits abortion to two weeks after a missed menstrual cycle, a time when some women don’t yet know they’re pregnant," Heidi Perez-Moreno reports for The Texas Tribune. "It aims to ban abortion after a fetal heartbeat has been detected, which is considered a misnomer as a fetus doesn’t possess a heart at six weeks’ gestation."

Several states have passed heartbeat bills; the Texas law, set to take effect Sept. 1, has a novel enforcement provision intended to make the law harder to block in court: Any private citizen can sue abortion providers or anyone else they believe isn't complying with state abortion laws. "Citizens who file such suits would not need to have a connection to an abortion provider or a person seeking an abortion or even reside in Texas. Those who win lawsuits would be awarded a minimum of $10,000 in damages, as well as attorney’s fees," Perez-Moreno reports.

Opponents of the law say it could stress an already overburdened court system and leave abortion clinics and women vulnerable to intimidation and harassment, Perez-Moreno reports. They also say it sets a dangerous precedent, since a person who files suit is typically required to have sustained harm as the basis of the suit.

Anti-abortion organization Right to Life East Texas, which helped write the bill, was named in the suit. The group is also behind ordinances in several small towns that declared them as "sanctuary cities for the unborn." Anti-abortion organizations in other states have successfully pitched similar sanctuary city ordinances; it's unclear whether any are pursuing similar statewide laws such as the one in Texas.

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