A recently enacted Texas law could potentially abolish abortion in the state after about six weeks into pregnancy by empowering ordinary civilians to sue clinics that don’t abide by the restriction, The New York Times reports.
The Times notes that although Texas passed the law earlier this year, federal court rulings blocking enforcement of similar restrictions in other states keep Texas from doing the same. But the Texas law also allows for an average citizen to sue in state court for a violation with a $10,000 reward for each illegal abortion.
John Seago, legislative director for the state’s largest anti-abortion organization, Texas Right to Life, told the Times that some people who oppose abortion came to the conclusion that “this was not working in federal court, so let’s try a different route.”
“It’s completely inverting the legal system,” said Stephen Vladeck, a professor of constitutional law at the University of Texas at Austin. “It says the state is not going to be the one to enforce this law. Your neighbors are.”
Vladeck and more than 370 other Texas lawyers wrote an open letter in the spring opposing the law, calling it an “unprecedented abuse of civil litigation” that could “have a destabilizing impact on the state’s legal infrastructure.”
“These bills would ban abortion at six weeks gestation, before many people even know they are pregnant and create an unprecedented cause of action for the enforcement of healthcare regulations. HB 1515 and SB 8 would grant ‘any person’ the right to sue an abortion provider or those who help someone access an abortion, including non-Texas residents and those with no connection to a patient," the letter said.
The tactic is not unprecedented with California allowing private citizens to sue under its "consumer protection law," the Times said quoting Howard M. Wasserman, a law professor at Florida International University in Miami.
The civil component of the law puts abortion clinics and their staff “in state court in a defensive posture, and there’s a lot at stake,” Wasserman said. “If they lose, they are on the hook for significant sums of money.”
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