This is the first in a two-part blog series on Senate Bill 8, a ban on nearly all abortions in Texas.
Texas's latest abortion ban, Senate Bill 8 (SB8), is remarkable in the sweeping powers it grants the general public. Under the ban, citizens of every stripe can sue any person who helps someone in Texas access abortion. That means anyone who disapproves of your abortion — an abusive partner, a parent, or even a complete stranger — would have the authority to go to court and get an order blocking your abortion.
Unless this law is blocked by the courts, Texas will ban abortion at approximately six weeks of pregnancy starting September 1. Because many people don’t know they’re pregnant at six weeks, this law would effectively outlaw abortion for most Texans. It’s unconscionable — and unconstitutional.
To block SB8, Texas abortion providers led by Whole Woman’s Health along with several abortion funds, practical support networks, doctors, health center staff, and clergy members filed a lawsuit today. Read on to learn more about SB8 and the lawsuit.
Background to SB8
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott signed SB8 into law in May. The response? Outrage. People who care about reproductive freedom protested in the streets, online, and on stage — notably, 18-year-old Texan Paxton Smith. The viral video of her valedictory high school graduation speech denounced the ban — noting "There is a war on my body...and my rights.
Six weeks. That's all women get... Before they have a chance to decide if they are emotionally, physically, and financially stable enough to carry out a full-term pregnancy, before they have the chance to decide if they can take on the responsibility of bringing another human being into the world — that decision is made for them by a stranger. A decision that will affect the rest of their lives is made by a stranger.—Paxton Smith ” Smith on SB8
It’s terrifying. Everyone deserves the freedom to control their own body. Nobody should be forced to stay pregnant against their will. Abortion is health care that, like birth control, people have used throughout history. Access to safe, legal abortion is a fundamental human right.
Here’s what makes this abortion ban especially dangerous, and how we’re fighting back.
Texas’s Six-Week Abortion Ban Is Unconstitutional and Discriminatory
In 1973, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Roe v. Wade that the United States Constitution protects the right to access abortion. The Court reaffirmed this right in Planned Parenthood v. Casey in 1992, Whole Woman's Health v. Hellerstedt in 2016, and June Medical Services v. Russo. The six-week ban in Texas violates almost 50 years of Supreme Court precedent.
Like many anti-abortion laws, SB8 will particularly harm people who have low incomes. Financial barriers mean they can’t afford to travel to another state for a safe, legal abortion — which can involve taking days off work, lodging, and childcare. (Nearly six out of 10 people who have abortions are parents.)
Here’s the thing: Abortion bans aren’t just unconstitutional; they’re deeply unpopular. A majority of voters, including Texans, support Roe v. Wade and the right to access safe, legal abortion. With SB8, Texas politicians are pandering to a minority of voters who would rather see their leaders spend time banning essential health care — for narrowly ideological reasons.
SB8 Encourages Lawsuits Against Those Who Assist Abortion Patients
Texas politicians designed SB8 to let private citizens enforce the law. That means Texas would allow people to sue not just an abortion provider, but any Texan who they believe provided an abortion or helped a patient obtain an abortion after six weeks of pregnancy.
So, someone’s mother who drove them to the appointment, friend who helped them pay for it, or a counselor who helped advise them, could be sued. If these helpers lose in court, they are on the hook for a minimum of $10,000 per abortion, with no apparent upper limit. That’s in addition to being liable to pay their own legal fees, AND the attorney’s fees of the other side. Such lawsuits could destroy abortion providers, as well as abortion funds — which help people jump through numerous logistical and financial hoops to obtain safe, legal abortion.
Fighting Back in Court
A broad range of plaintiffs represented by the Center for Reproductive Rights, Planned Parenthood Federation of America, the Lawyering Project, the American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Texas, and Morrison & Foerster LLP filed a lawsuit today asking the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas to block the law before it is scheduled to take effect. Defendants in the lawsuit include every state court trial judge and county clerk in Texas; the Texas Medical Board; the Texas Board of Nursing; the Texas Board of Pharmacy; the attorney general; and the director of Right to Life East Texas, who has already openly called for people to sue their local abortion providers under SB8.
Among other claims, today’s lawsuit states that SB8 blatantly violates Texans’ constitutional right to privacy and liberty as established by Roe v. Wade nearly 50 years ago. The law also violates the constitutional rights of abortion providers and supporters, including their right to equal protection under the law, and their First Amendment rights to free speech and access to the courts.