A group of abortion providers filed a federal lawsuit Tuesday against Texas officials with the purpose of stopping a bill that allows citizens to sue a woman if she has an abortion after six weeks of pregnancy.
Senate Bill 8, known as the Heartbeat Bill, is unique in that it prohibits state officials from enforcing the ban. Instead, it allows anyone — even someone outside Texas — to sue an abortion provider or anyone else who may have helped someone get an abortion after that time period, and seek financial damages of up to $10,000 per defendant.
When signing the bill in May, Gov. Gregg Abbott (R-TX) stressed why it's so important to protect these innocent lives.
"Our Creator endowed us with the right to life," Abbott said. "And yet millions of children lose their right to life every year because of abortion. In Texas, we work to save those lives. That's exactly what the Texas legislature did this session. They worked together on a bipartisan basis to pass a bill that I'm about to sign that ensures that the life of every unborn child who has a heartbeat will be saved from the ravages of abortion," Abbott said while signing the bill.
Critics say that provision would allow abortion opponents to flood the courts with lawsuits to harass doctors, patients, nurses, domestic violence counselors, a friend who drove a woman to a clinic, or even a parent who paid for a procedure.
Plaintiffs in the lawsuit include clergy, physicians, and clinics who are represented by Planned Parenthood and the Center for Reproductive Rights.
Marc Hearron, senior counsel for the Center for Reproductive Rights and lead attorney on the suit, said the bill could produce "endless lawsuits."
He added, "It allows complete strangers, anti-abortion activists, to sue and interfere with the patient's decision. Those people may try to essentially hijack the courts for their ideological agenda."
Defendants in the lawsuit include judges and county clerks in Texas, the Texas Medical Board, the Texas Board of Nursing, the Texas Board of Pharmacy, the state attorney general, and the Director of Right to Life East Texas, Mark Lee Dickson.
"The only thing more ridiculous than this lawsuit is the fact that we have people, right here in Texas, who are fighting to end the lives of innocent unborn children," Dickson wrote in a Facebook post Tuesday.
John Seago, legislative director for Texas Right to Life, said he is optimistic that the bill will be upheld.
"We still have the utmost confidence in the innovative legal strategy and carefully drafted nature of SB 8," Seago said in a statement. "We fully believe this pro-life priority will ultimately be upheld and save countless pre-born lives."
The measure puts Texas in line with more than a dozen other states that are taking aggressive steps to defend the unborn. The law is supposed to take effect on Sept. 1, but federal courts have mostly blocked states from enforcing similar laws.
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