Judge temporarily blocks more potential lawsuits from being filed under Texas abortion law

Texas Politics

A group of abortion advocates hold a protest called “Bans Off Our Bodies” at the Texas Capitol at noon on Wednesday (KXAN/Monica Madden)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Hours after the U.S. Supreme Court denied an appeal from abortion providers to block the new Texas Heartbeat Act, a district judge in Travis County heard more legal challenges to the law.

The law, which went into effect on Wednesday, prohibits abortions once medical professionals can detect fetal cardiac activity, usually around six weeks into a pregnancy. The law allows private citizens to sue anyone who “aids and abets” in an abortion, other than the patient. 

The high court voted 5-4 to deny an emergency appeal that sought to block enforcement of the law.

Thursday morning, several individuals and funds that provide resources to women seeking abortions asked a state court to grant them temporary restraining orders (TROs) to protect them from any civil lawsuits filed against them, under the new law. Their request specifically mentioned a group called Texas Right to Life and their legislative director John Seago.

The plaintiffs include the Lilith Fund for Reproductive Equity, The North Texas Equal Access Fund, and a social worker named Monica Faulkner, who worries how the new law could affect her when she helps victims of sexual assault or abuse.

Elizabeth Myers, attorney for these plaintiffs, said her clients feel the new law steps on their constitutional rights, which is why they are asking the judge for relief.

“The only way to avoid ruinous financial lawsuits is to give up your constitutional rights,” she argued to the court.

Myers called Texas Right to Life the “leading organization” attempting to organize lawsuits against her clients. She referenced an online tip form set up by the group, where people can anonymously report potentially illegal abortions.

Meanwhile, the lawyer representing Texas Right to Life, Johnathan Mitchell, argued the TROs were not necessary.

He told the judge that abortion providers across the state have publicly stated they will follow the new law and cease abortions after a fetal heartbeat is detected — referencing statements put out by providers such as Planned Parenthood and Whole Woman’s Health. This, Mitchell said, means the group wouldn’t need to file any lawsuits — negating the need for a TRO.

“Where’s the evidence that post-heartbeat abortions are occurring?” he said. “You can’t aid or abet an act that is not occurring in the state of Texas.”

He went on to say Texas Right to Life was “not going to sue abortion providers that are doing pre-heartbeat abortions, just for harassment.”

Earlier this week, a spokesperson for the group named Kimberlyn Schwartz said, “Really, we are just watching to make sure that abortionists follow the law — that they are not going to kill any pre-born babies once the heartbeat is detectable.”

She went on to say, “We believe that both lives, the woman and the baby, are valuable in this situation.”

These statements came on Tuesday, after the same Travis County district judge granted three TROs to block Texas Right to Life from filing any civil lawsuits against a resource group called Bridge Collective and two individuals, who often offer support resources for women seeking abortions.

Schwartz told KXAN they had never threatened to sue these three parties specifically. However, she also clarified that these TROs only blocked them from filing lawsuits in these three cases.

A public statement by the group read: “This ruling by a Travis County judge does not change Texas Right to Life’s plans. Texas Right to Life is still legally authorized to sue others who violate the Texas Heartbeat Act, including abortionists.”

Myers referenced this statement as she presented the latest requests to Judge Meachum on Thursday morning, telling her the court’s willingness to grant these temporary orders “certainly sends signal” to the public and could reduce the number of potential lawsuits against her clients.

Judge Meachum granted the new requests for TROs. These orders will be in place until the court meets again on the matter, in a hearing scheduled for Sept. 13.

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