AUSTIN (KXAN) — Social worker Monica Faulkner is concerned about the state’s new abortion law. She wonders if simply referring a sexual assault victim to a clinic could get her sued.
“We’re talking about advocates who don’t make a lot of money,” she said. “They can’t afford $10,000-plus attorney fees.”
The law prohibits abortions once medical professionals can detect fetal cardiac activity, usually around six weeks into a pregnancy. It allows private citizens to sue abortion providers or anyone who “aids and abets” in an abortion, other than the patient.
“Millions of people can potentially sue without a personal connection to an abortion,” said appellate attorney David Coale.
We’ve been asking experts about how litigation could play out under the new law and who is most vulnerable.
Coale told KXAN larger entities can more easily absorb the cost of a lawsuit easier than a small clinic or an individual like Monica Faulkner. Take the City of Austin, for example, which pays for transportation, child care and counseling for women seeking an abortion.
“The City of Austin has a long history in supporting and investing in the health of its residents,” said a city spokesperson. “We are currently evaluating all legislation that just went into effect on September 1st and how the laws impact our ability to provide services to the community.”
Then there is the case of Austin-based Bumble, which responded to the new law by announcing it would create a relief fund for people seeking abortions in Texas. The company declined to make anyone available for an interview Friday.
The CEO of Dallas-based Match has also created a similar fund, and Lyft now says it will cover the legal fees of drivers sued under the new law.
“They are attractive targets for litigation if you are a strategic filer of these lawsuits,” said Coale. “Larger entities are less litigation averse, they have bigger budgets, they have insurance and they have more lawyers on staff.”
Coale says suing under the new law is low-risk for a plaintiff, maybe a few hundred dollars in attorney and processing fees. Even so, he doesn’t expect a lawsuit “free-for-all.”
“At least in the beginning, these are going to be very high profile, and they’re going to get a lot of attention,” said Coale. “So if you stand up and file one of these, you’re sort of inviting media scrutiny.”
Coale says the first few lawsuits will tell a lot. If judges start ruling the legal challenges unconstitutional because of Roe V. Wade, he says there will be fewer to follow.
He added it depends how much of a target abortion providers or other potential defendants want to make themselves.
“The statute has been an effective deterrent,” said Coale. “It’s been in effect three days and every major provider says in the media, they’ve drastically scaled back their operations.”