Texas Law Allows Private Citizens to Enforce Abortion Ban

Gov. Abbott signs 'heartbeat' bill into law
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted May 19, 2021 1:43 PM CDT
Texas Law Allows Private Citizens to Enforce Abortion Ban
In this March 30, 2021 photo, abortion opponents gather in the rotunda at the Texas Capitol while the Senate debates anti-abortion bills in Austin, Texas.   (Jay Janner/Austin American-Statesman via AP, File)

"This bill ensures that every unborn child who has a heartbeat will be saved from the ravages of abortion," Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said Wednesday as he signed one of the nation's most restrictive anti-abortion bills into law. The measure bans abortion as early as six weeks, meaning that many women—including victims of rape and incest—will be banned from having abortions before they even know they are pregnant, the Texas Tribune reports. The bill, which is due to take effect in September, makes exceptions only for medical emergencies. A dozen other states have passed similar "heartbeat" abortion bills, though the Texas bill, unlike others, ensures that the ban will be enforced by private citizens, not the government, the Guardian reports.

The bill allows any citizen, whether or not they live in Texas, to sue abortion providers and anybody else who helps someone get an abortion after the six-week limit, the AP reports. They may seek damages of up to $10,000 per defendant. Reproductive rights groups warn that the broadly written bill will allow anti-abortion activists to harass doctors, nurses, counselors, and even the friends and relatives of women who have abortions with a flood of lawsuits. "The goal is clear: to relentlessly attack our reproductive rights until abortion is a right in name only," said Alexis McGill Johnson, president of Planned Parenthood Action Fund. Court challenges have blocked other heartbeat bills from taking effect and rights groups have vowed to fight the Texas one as well. (On Monday, the Supreme Court agreed to consider a rollback of abortion rights.)

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