Proposed Texas Law Allows Citizens to Sue Those Who Help Women Get Abortions

A proposed Texas "heartbeat bill" approved by state lawmakers Thursday and expected to be signed into law by Republican Governor Greg Abbott would allow private citizens to sue doctors and others who help women get abortions after six weeks of pregnancy.

Similar bills by other GOP-led states have mostly been prevented from becoming law by federal courts, which could be the case here even if Abbott signs it. The bill prevents state officials from enforcing the abortion ban after six weeks but allows for U.S. citizens, even those not residing in Texas, to sue those who help women who do so.

"The Texas Heartbeat Act is novel in approach, allowing for citizens to hold abortionists accountable through private lawsuits," said Rebecca Parma, a senior legislative associate for the pro-life group Texas Right to Life. "No heartbeat law passed by another state has taken this strategy. Additionally, the bill does not punish women who obtain abortions."

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Texas State Capitol
Protesters gather at the Texas State Capitol building on April 18, 2020, in Austin, Texas. A proposed Texas law approved by state lawmakers Thursday allows for anyone, even those that do not reside in Texas, to sue anyone who helps a woman get an abortion after six weeks of pregnancy. Sergio Flores/Getty Images

Six weeks is before many women even know they are pregnant.

The Senate vote sends the bill to Abbott. That would bring Texas in line with about a dozen other GOP-led states that have passed so-called "heartbeat bills."

The bill would ban abortions after the first detection of an embryonic "heartbeat." Advanced technology can detect an electric signal flutter as early as six weeks into a pregnancy, even though the embryo isn't yet a fetus and doesn't have a heart. An embryo is termed a fetus beginning in the 11th week of pregnancy, medical experts say.

The Texas bill also allows for anyone to seek financial damages if the rule is violated.

Critics also say that provision would allow abortion opponents to flood the courts with lawsuits to harass domestic violence counselors or even a parent who paid for a procedure.

And they argue that it would violate state constitutional requirements that civil lawsuits can be filed only by impacted parties. Under the bill, a person filing the lawsuit would not need any personal connection to the abortion in question.

The bill has been opposed by medical groups.

Texas law currently bans abortion after 20 weeks, with exceptions for a woman with a life-threatening medical condition or if the fetus has a severe abnormality.

Proponents of these so-called "heartbeat bills" are hoping for a legal challenge to eventually reach the U.S. Supreme Court, where they look for the conservative coalition assembled under President Donald Trump to end the constitutional right to abortion protected under the high court's landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling.

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