Texas would ban abortions after as early as six weeks and allow private citizens to file civil lawsuits against doctors and others responsible for illegal abortions under a measure given final approval by state lawmakers on Thursday.
The Senate vote sends the bill to Republican Gov. Greg Abbott, who is expected to sign it into law.
That would bring Texas in line with about a dozen other GOP-led states that have passed so-called “heartbeat bills” that federal courts have mostly blocked. The Texas measure is likely to draw a swift legal challenge from pro-abortion groups.
The bill would ban abortions after the first detection of a fetal heartbeat.
A unique provision in the Texas bill allows anyone to sue a doctor or anyone else who may have helped someone get an illegal abortion and seek financial damages of up to $10,000 per defendant.
“The Texas Heartbeat Act is novel in approach, allowing for citizens to hold abortionists accountable through private lawsuits. No heartbeat law passed by another state has taken this strategy. Additionally, the bill does not punish women who obtain abortions,” said Rebecca Parma, Texas Right to Life senior legislative associate.
Critics say the provision would allow abortion opponents to flood the courts with lawsuits against doctors, nurses, a friend who drove a woman to a clinic or even a parent who paid for an abortion.
They argue that it would violate state 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.
“Texas has now joined the new wave of extreme abortion bans passed this year across the U.S.,” said Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights.
“This bill essentially opens the floodgates to allow anyone who is hostile to abortion to sue doctors and clinics, consuming their resources and forcing them to shut down. We will pursue all legal options to prevent this law from taking effect.”
Texas law currently bans abortion after 20 weeks, with exceptions for a woman with a life-threatening medical condition or if the unborn baby has a severe abnormality.
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