Texas Attorneys Say GOP Abortion Bills Could Open The Door To Unlimited Lawsuits From Strangers
More than 370 members of Texas’ legal community sent a letter to Texas House Speaker Dade Phelan and other members of the Texas House on Wednesday raising legal concerns about two bills aimed at limiting access to abortion in the state.
House Bill 1515 and Senate Bill 8, if passed, would ban abortions at six weeks of gestation, which is before most women know they are pregnant. Most notably, though, the bills would also allow anyone to sue someone who provides some kind of support to a woman who has an abortion.
In the letter, which was signed by county attorneys, current and former elected officials, former judges, law professors and other members of the State Bar of Texas, attorneys wrote that the bills are unconstitutional and would create an “unprecedented” change to Texas' courts.
“We are specifically concerned that HB 1515 and SB 8 grant ‘any person’ the right to sue, including even those who do not reside in Texas and those with no connection to a patient, against a broad range of defendants,” they wrote.
Drucilla Tigner, a policy and advocacy strategist with the ACLU of Texas, said the bills eliminate an existing requirement that someone needs to be harmed in order to file a lawsuit against someone.
“It makes it so that anyone — not just in Texas, but in the country — could sue no matter the relationship with the person,” she said.
According to attorneys, someone — without even knowing the person who got an abortion — could sue the doctors who provided the procedure, as well as the nurses and clinic staff. Liability would also extend to people who provide logistical or emotional support to someone who gets abortion, which includes family members, clergy, rape crisis counselors. The bills hold people liable if they merely “intend” to help a woman seeking an abortion.
If passed, Tigner said the bills could make all these people subject to tens of thousands of dollars worth of liability to total strangers.
“This throws open the courthouse doors in a way that we will have never seen before, at least in Texas,” she said. “And this will just allow more people to kind of flood our courts with harassing lawsuits intended to shut down clinics.”
In a statement, abortion rights advocate Aimee Arrambide said the legal changes in SB8 and HB 1515 are so broad that they “would allow a rapist to sue their victim’s counselor, physician or family and recover a minimum of $10,000 if they were successful.”
In the letter from Texas' legal community, attorneys said regardless of anyone’s position on abortion, these bills should be stopped because of the ramifications for Texas’ judicial system.
“All Texans deserve a fair and predictable court system whose impartiality is above question,” they wrote. “Anything less ruptures basic notions of fairness and liberty in a democratic society.”