Texas’s radical new abortion ban took effect today, forcing almost all abortion care in the state to cease. The U.S. Supreme Court has yet to rule on the emergency request by the Center for Reproductive Rights and its partners to block the law before its September 1 effective date.
The law, S.B. 8, bans abortion after approximately six weeks of pregnancy—before many people know they’re pregnant. Since approximately 85 to 90 percent of people who obtain abortions in Texas are at least six weeks into pregnancy, the law will effectively end almost all abortion care in the state. The law also shifts enforcement from state officials to private individuals, incentivizing individuals—including anti-abortion activists—to seek monetary penalties by suing anyone who provides abortion care or assists someone in obtaining care in the state.
Last night, clinics across Texas were open and providing abortion care up until 11:59 PM to ensure they were able to see as many patients as possible before the ban took effect. Anti-abortion groups in Texas have already set up online sites enlisting people to sue anyone they believe is violating the law and encouraging people to submit “anonymous tips” on doctors, clinics, and others who violate the law.
On behalf of the plaintiffs —Texas abortion providers led by Whole Woman’s Health, doctors, clinic staff, abortion funds, support networks, and clergy members — the Center and its partners filed an emergency request with the U.S. Supreme Court on August 30 to block the law. The request also asked the Court to allow district court proceedings to continue. On August 25, the district court had denied the defendants’ motion to dismiss the case challenging the Texas law brought by the Center and its partners on July 13. The emergency request to the Supreme Court came after the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals on August 29 denied the plaintiffs’ request to block the law, paused district court proceedings, and refused to take any action to prevent the ban from going into effect.
“Texans, like everyone else in this country, should be able to count on safe abortion care in their own state,” said Amy Hagstrom Miller, president and CEO of Whole Woman’s Health and Whole Woman’s Health Alliance, when the Supreme Court request was filed. “No one should be forced to drive hundreds of miles or be made to continue a pregnancy against their will, yet that’s what will happen unless the Supreme Court steps in.”
S.B. 8 Provides $10,000 Incentive for Individuals to “Enforce” Texas Abortion Ban
S.B. 8 was designed to attempt to evade legal accountability in court, since it shifts enforcement from state officials to private individuals. The law incentivizes individuals—including anti-abortion activists—to seek monetary penalties by suing anyone who provides abortion care or assists someone in obtaining care in the state.
Under the law, anyone who successfully sues a health center worker, an abortion provider, or any person who helps someone access abortion after six weeks will be rewarded with at least $10,000, to be paid by the person sued. Lawsuits may be filed against a broad range of people—considered by the law to be “aiders and abettors”— including a person who drives their friend to obtain an abortion; abortion funds providing financial assistance to patients; health center staff; and a member of the clergy who counsels or assists an abortion patient.
People who successfully defend themselves from such lawsuits, however, are prohibited under S.B. 8 from recovering their fees and costs.
On July 13, the Center, Planned Parenthood Federation of America, the American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Texas, the Lawyering Project, and Morrison & Foerster LLP brought the case, Whole Woman’s Health et al. v. Jackson et al., on behalf of the plaintiffs. Defendants in the lawsuit include parties that would have an enforcement role in S.B. 8: every state court trial judge and clerk in Texas, the Texas Medical Board, the Texas Board of Nursing, the Texas Board of Pharmacy, the attorney general, and Mark Lee Dickson, Director of Right to Life East Texas, an individual who has threatened to sue under the new law.
Texas Has Dozens of Restrictions on Abortion Access
Abortion is already extremely difficult to access in Texas. Restrictions have forced health centers to close and have pushed access out of reach for many. With S.B. 8 going into effect, the average one-way driving distance for pregnant Texans seeking an abortion is expected to increase from 12 miles to 248 miles, according to new research from the Guttmacher Institute.
As with other abortion restrictions, S.B. 8 will disproportionately harm people who already face discriminatory obstacles to accessing health care including people of color, those living on low incomes, and those in rural areas. People struggling to make ends meet must often delay care to secure funds, and Texas prohibits coverage of abortion care through its Medicaid program and in nearly all private insurance plans.
Other Texas abortion restrictions include state-mandated biased counseling, a 24-hour mandatory delay that forces patients to make two trips to the clinic and shoulder additional costs, a ban on the use of telemedicine for abortion, and a parental consent requirement.
- Case background: Whole Woman’s Health et al. v. Jackson et al.
- Center Asks U.S. Supreme Court to Block Texas Law That Would Prohibit Almost All Abortion Care in the State, 08.30.2021
- Fate of Texas Abortion Ban is with the Supreme Court, 08.30.2021
- Center and Partners File Lawsuit to Block Texas Abortion Ban, 07.13.2021
- Abortion Restrictions in Texas