On Tuesday, abortion rights advocates and providers filed a federal lawsuit in Texas in an attempt to block the state’s terrifying recently passed anti-abortion legislation that empowers private citizens to sue literally anyone who helps a person seeking an abortion. The Texas “heartbeat bill” allows individuals to sue not just abortion funds and providers, but also friends of an abortion seeker who help with expenses or drive them to their appointment—even religious leaders who provide spiritual counsel to a person considering an abortion could be held liable under the restrictive law. In order to block the unconstitutional legislation, which is set to take effect in September, the organizations behind the federal lawsuit have asked a judge to prevent any Texas trial court judge from enforcing the law and to block county clerks from accepting the lawsuits.
Although Texas is far from the only state to have passed an abortion ban in recent months, abortion advocates say that the Texas law is uniquely harmful because of how it puts the enforcement of the abortion ban into the hands of private citizens instead of governmental officials—and awards the individuals at least $10,000 if their lawsuits are successful. Not only will this legislation isolate abortion patients from their support networks, but Texas providers say that it will likely subject them to constant and expensive lawsuits that will likely force clinics to reduce services or shut down entirely.
Unsurprisingly, this “heartbeat bill” will disproportionately impact Black and Latinx women, who represent nearly two-thirds of all abortions performed in Texas over the past five years. It will also disadvantage low-income abortion seekers, who account for 75% of abortion patients nationally and already struggle to afford the costs associated with the procedure, including childcare and transportation.
“The state has put a bounty on the head of any person or entity who so much as gives a patient money for an abortion after six weeks of pregnancy, before most people know they are pregnant,” said Nancy Northup, president of the Center for Reproductive Rights, in a statement. “Worse, it will intimidate loved ones from providing support for fear of being sued.”