Opinion | How The Texas Abortion Law is Turning Activists Into Enforcers
The Texas law should be seen in this context. It deputizes abortion opponents to harass their enemies. Texas Right to Life has already launched a “whistle-blower” website where people can submit anonymous tips. “One of the great benefits, and one of the things that’s most exciting for the pro-life movement, is that they have a role in enforcing this law,” John Seago, the group’s legislative director, told CNN.
Once the lawsuits start, they can be challenged in court. But by then, both people and organizations might be ruined by legal fees. In a press call on Wednesday, Marc Hearron, a senior counsel for the Center for Reproductive Rights who represents some of the abortion providers fighting the law, explained how S.B. 8 could enable a legal bombardment.
“The law allows any individual citizen who lives in Texas to bring a suit in their own county, and the courts are blocked from actually transferring that case to a more appropriate venue. So you could have hundreds, thousands of cases, filed across the state, over the same abortion or a handful of abortions,” he said. Even if defendants win every case, said Hearron, the burden of having to defend themselves in multiple courts “threatens to stop the provision of abortion access across the state.”
So even complying with the law isn’t enough to protect abortion providers. On Tuesday, the Fort Worth branch of Whole Woman’s Health, a chain of abortion clinics, stayed open late into the night to take care of desperate patients before the law went into effect, completing a last abortion at 11:56 p.m. Now, like other clinics in the state, it will perform abortions only when there’s no heartbeat. There’s little to stop people from suing anyway.
“People are afraid,” Amy Hagstrom Miller, Whole Woman’s Health’s president and chief executive, told me. “They’re afraid of the surveillance and the harassment that now has this sort of huge power behind it. They’re unfortunately kind of used to the picketers screaming at them and writing down their license plates. But now these folks have this whole tool chest full of ways that they can harass them.”
Even if S.B. 8 is eventually knocked down, it’s already sent a message about who the Republican Party intends to put in charge of the rest of us.