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Heartbeat Bill is Challenged in New Rights Advocacy Lawsuit

— July 21, 2021

Lawsuit filed in response to Texas’ new ‘heartbeat bill.’

A law (known as the “heartbeat bill” or S.B. 8), signed by Texas Governor Greg Abbott in May of this year, forbids abortion at six weeks into pregnancy.  This is so early in the cycle that many women do not yet realize they are pregnant, and it’s about four months before fetal viability.  The bill is set to take effect in September.

“Our creator endowed us with the right to life and yet millions of children lose their right to life every year because of abortion,” Abbott said at the signing ceremony, adding, “The Legislature 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.”

Now, a lawsuit has been filed fighting against the new measure.  According to the Whole Women’s Health Alliance, a plaintiff in the suit, “85%-90% of abortions in Texas take place after six weeks.”  The lawsuit was filed in the United States District Court for the Western District of Texas Austin Division and was signed by nearly two dozen health care centers and alliances, surgical facilities, women’s’ rights advocates, providers, and members of the clergy.

Heartbeat Bill is Challenged in New Rights Advocacy Lawsuit
Photo by cottonbro from Pexels

At particular issue is that the Texas law overrides any usual due process for enforcement.  Typically, federal officials would be responsible for imposing the law, and if clinics or patients wanted to argue it’s unconstitutional, they could file a lawsuit.  But the bill excludes officials from imposing their power.  Instead, it requires that private citizens sue clinics “and anyone who ‘aids or abets’ such an abortion, or intends to do these things,” according to the lawsuit. “These civil suits are permitted regardless of whether the person suing has any connection to the abortion.”

The heartbeat bill would also allow any private citizen who sues to collect at least $10,000 if they win in court, thus incentivizing litigation.  This could put providers at risk, including doctors, nurses, and others, as well as clergy who counsel women on abortion; and friends or loved ones who give the patient a ride to an abortion clinic and offer support.

Nancy Northup, president of the Center for Reproductive Rights, also a plaintiff in the lawsuit, said, “Texas has put a bounty on the head of anyone who so much as gives a patient money for an abortion after six weeks.”

The lawsuit states, “Plaintiffs bring this action to challenge S.B. 8 on behalf of themselves; their staff, including physicians, physician assistants, nurses, and pharmacists; and their patients.”  It continues, “If permitted to take effect, S.B. 8 will create absolute chaos in Texas and irreparably harm Texans in need of abortion services. In particular, the burdens of this cruel law will fall most heavily on Black, Latinx, and indigenous patients, who, because of systemic racism, already encounter substantial barriers to obtaining healthcare and will face particular challenges and injuries if forced to attempt to seek care out of state or else carry an unwanted pregnancy to term.”  It contends, the heartbeat bill will also “cause irreparable harm to abortion providers and organizations and individuals who help women get abortions.”


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