Judge rules that enforcement provisions of Texas abortion law violate state constitution
A Texas judge on Thursday ruled that parts of the state’s law restricting abortion are unconstitutional and should not be enforced, but did not issue an injunction blocking it.
District Judge David Peeples said enforcement mechanisms in the law denied due process and violated Texas’s state constitution.
The controversial law bans all abortions after fetal cardiac activity is detected. That milestone usually comes about six weeks into pregnancy, a point at which many are not yet aware that they are pregnant.
Peeples took issue with the law allowing anyone to file a suit against abortion providers and other individuals who “aid and abet” those who violate the law without the plaintiffs having to first prove that they have been harmed by such actions. The Texas law allows plaintiffs who succeed in their suits to collect a summary judgement of $10,000 plus legal fees from those they sue.
If they lose the case, meanwhile, plaintiffs are not required to pay the other person’s legal fees. Critics have lambasted this provision as placing a bounty on abortion providers.
“SB 8 grants to 21 million Texans the power to bring cases without any guidance, supervision, or screening,” Peeples wrote in his order.
“There is no guidance in the statute and no guidance from any public official. There is nothing to prevent a billionaire from Texas or another state, motivated by ideology, from setting up an enforcement system by locating a few willing Texans who live in favorable counties of venue to file suits in their home counties and enforce SB 8 across Texas,” he added.
The case Peeples was considering had been consolidated from more than a dozen originally separate cases that all sought to declare the law unconstitutional and prevent the Texas Right to Life anti-abortion organization from filing lawsuits against the numerous plaintiffs, the Austin American-Statesman reported.
Peeples acknowledged that elements of the law are unconstitutional. The law is still effect, however, because the case was focused solely on the plaintiffs in the case and Texas Right to Life. Despite the limited effects of this ruling, the American-Statesman noted that it could have a broader impact going forward.
Jennifer Ecklund, an attorney representing some of the plaintiffs in this case, said, “This ruing affirms what (our clients) have been trying to say, which is that they are good people doing their jobs and trying to help pregnant Texans when they need it.”
Texas Right to Life spokesperson Kimberlyn Schwartz said, “The abortion industry’s lawsuit abuses the judicial system and turns this court into a mere platform for airing criticisms against the boldest pro-life law to take effect since Roe v. Wade.”
In September, the Texas abortion law was challenged by the Department of Justice, which sued Texas, arguing in a lawsuit that the law was unconstitutional and went against Supreme Court precedent.
“The act is clearly unconstitutional under longstanding Supreme Court precedent,” U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland said at the time.