In May, Gov. Greg Abbot signed a bill to ban abortions in Texas as early as six weeks. A time before many people know they are pregnant. The bill also allows citizens to sue any person found in violation for an incentive of at least $10,000.
The Texas Senate Bill (S.B.8) will bar providers from being able to terminate any pregnancy – including cases of rape and incest – after a fetal heartbeat has been detected. According to the American Pregnancy Association, most women discover they are pregnant between weeks four and seven of pregnancy. Essentially meaning, some women may not know they have conceived until after the ban becomes enforced.
“When you factor in the time it takes to confirm a pregnancy, consider options and make a decision, schedule an appointment and comply with all the restrictions politicians have already put in place for patients and providers, a six-week ban essentially bans abortion outright.”Dyana Limon-Mercado, executive director of Planned Parenthood Texas Votes
Officials label the bill titled the “fetal heartbeat” law as one of the nation’s most uniquely extreme abortion bans. Although other states have passed similar “heartbeat” bills, lawmakers formulated this law uniquely. Setting the stage for a questionable new way of law enforcement.
“Every citizen is now a private attorney general”
The law, which is set to take effect in September, will allow citizens to sue anyone who “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.”
“It’s a very unique law and it’s a very clever law,” said Josh Blackman, a constitutional law professor at South Texas College of Law Houston. “You can have random people who are against abortion start suing tomorrow.”
Rather than relying on the government to enforce the law, the bill turns the duty onto private citizens. Essentially opening the floodgates for any anti-abortion activist, ex-boyfriend, religious family member, or random stranger to sue.
Melissa Murray, a law professor at New York University explained the law in a New York Times article, stating:
Furthermore, the bill provides a bounty beginning at $10,000 for individuals who bring civil action against someone over the abortion law and wins. A notion that further fuels the attack against women’s reproductive rights.
“Hey, wasn’t Jessica pregnant last week? She’s not pregnant now! I think I might turn her in and get myself $10,000.”
– Joy Reid, on Texas Abortion Law Incentivizes Monitoring Women For ‘Bounties,’ MSNBC
Isn’t this, like entirely unconstitutional?
It is no question that this wholly violates women’s rights under the current state of constitutional law. According to Roe vs. Wade, the landmark case established that a woman has the right to an abortion anytime before fetal viability. Typically around 24 weeks. However, Republican lawmakers designed the law for it to be difficult to overturn. The private enforcement offers a loophole around legal challenges that previously tied up abortion restrictions in court.
“This makes it really hard for those who are affected by this law to challenge it. Because it’s not clear who you sue when you’re protesting a law that the government is not responsible for enforcing.”Stephen Vladeck, Professor at the University of Texas
In other instances, abortion providers typically sue the state to stop a restrictive abortion law from taking effect. In this case, however, no state official is enforcing the bill — so there’s no one to sue.
Set to fight back
Despite the loophole, pro-choice legal groups have already taken action to block the bill. In a lawsuit filed by groups including Whole Woman’s Health and Planned Parenthood, the suit states:
“The Texas legislatures well documented hostility to the rights of pregnant people has gone to a new extreme.”
“Senate Bill 8 flagrantly violates the constitutional rights of Texans seeking abortion and upends the rule of law in service of an anti abortion agenda”
If permitted to take effect, however, S.B.8 will cause devastating ramifications for those in need of abortion services in Texas. With 85 percent of abortion cases taking place after the six-week mark, countless Texans will suffer the pains of the bill and face the risk of forced pregnancy.