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A 'sue thy neighbor' law in Texas will ban abortions and place a $10,000 bounty on providers

The broad and unconventional law could throw abortion access in Texas into chaos, but lawyers representing 20 abortion providers are hopeful they will prevail.

A 'sue thy neighbor' law in Texas will ban abortions and place a $10,000 bounty on providers
Image Source: Protestors Rally Against Restrictive New Texas Abortion Law In Austin. AUSTIN, TX - MAY 29. (Photo by Sergio Flores/Getty Images)

If a federal court allows a law called SB8 to take effect on September 1, Texas will become the first state in several decades to ban access to most abortions. Referred to as the "sue thy neighbor" law, it permits any and all citizens to file a lawsuit against folks who "aid and abet" those exercising their constitutional right to abortions. The law would place a $10,000 "bounty" on abortion providers and anyone else who helps an individual obtain an abortion past about six weeks’ gestation. Experts believe SB8 would ban an estimated 85 percent of abortions, since most women do not know they are pregnant at six weeks. A hearing was scheduled for Monday, but the fifth circuit court of appeals canceled it late Friday. An emergency motion filed by reproductive rights groups was denied, leaving the fate of abortion access under serious threat, The Guardian reports.


"The law is really unprecedented in the sense that it bans abortion, but then has no government criminal penalties to enforce the law," stated Brigitte Amiri, the deputy director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Reproductive Freedom Project. "It authorizes anyone in the country to file a lawsuit against any abortion provider, or anyone who helps someone get an abortion, and seek a penalty of that person of at least $10,000 per abortion." Amiri is an attorney representing a group of plaintiffs who have sued to halt the law from going into effect. As per SB8, anyone, anywhere, even those unconnected to an event, would be allowed to sue. This makes it highly unusual both as an abortion law and in terms of broader civil litigation.


In addition to restricting one's constitutional right to abortion, many opponents of the law believe it could build a "backdoor" of sorts to attack other equally controversial civil rights, such as gun rights or freedom of speech. Another consequence of SB8 is the crushing legal expenses and duplicative lawsuits that defendants would have to incur and fight. This is because the law would saddle violators of the law with their opponents’ attorneys fees, providing no similar relief for defendants even if they win.


Proponents of the law have already seen success as a result of the strategy SB8 would institutionalize. For instance, a comparable law was passed via referendum in Lubbock, Texas. It has since forced a Planned Parenthood branch to stop providing abortions while it fights the case in a federal court. Nina Ginsberg, a criminal defense attorney who evaluated how states have built a criminal framework to prosecute abortion, said, "It’s astounding, because what it is doing is deputizing private citizens to become prosecutors in a way." SB8 opponents believe the law is part of a "three-prong" strategy to end abortion in Texas.


The other two strategies include a separate ban on the most common surgical abortion procedure after 15 weeks’ gestation and a campaign to outlaw medication abortion after seven weeks’ gestation. Despite staunch support for SB8, opposition has been fierce. More than 370 Texas lawyers, former judges, legal professors, and local officials have signed an open letter opposing it due to how unconventional and broad it is. Now, lawyers representing 20 abortion providers are hopeful they will prevail. They expect a reprieve in the form of an injunction, which could come just hours before the law goes into effect. Nonetheless, should there be any delays, abortion access could quickly crumble into chaos.



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