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A powerful anti-abortion group in Texas is encouraging people to anonymously snitch on people who might’ve helped others get abortions in the state—effectively turning neighbors into anti-abortion vigilantes.
Last month, Texas Right to Life launched a new website site that asks “pro-life whistleblowers” to anonymously submit tips. The website arrives just weeks before Texas is slated to enact a law that will ban abortion as early as six weeks into pregnancy, before many people even know they’re pregnant. There are no exceptions for rape or incest. But the Texas government isn’t planning to enforce the rules, which go into effect Sept. 1, on its own: Under the new law, people can sue anyone who may have helped a patient secure an abortion that violates the ban.
On the website, people are encouraged to submit any “evidence” they may have “on how you think the law has been violated,” explain how they obtained that evidence, and name the doctor or clinic that their tip pertains to.
On another section of the website, Texas Right to Life asks people to “join the team” and fill out a more extensive questionnaire that will help the group “plug you into the best way you can enforce the law.” Among other questions, the questionnaire asks, whether people would want to be a plaintiff in a lawsuit or if they’d prefer to help with litigating or data collection.
Under the new law, not only could abortion providers face ruinous lawsuits, but so could individuals who help pay for abortions or even drive patients to the clinic. More specifically, anyone who’s found to have “knowingly engages in conduct that aids or abets the performance or inducement of an abortion” against the Texas law could be liable, per the legislation. Abortions are permitted, however, in the event of a medical emergency.
If someone loses a lawsuit, they’ll have to pay damages of at least $10,000, as well as attorney fees.
“It’s our responsibility too, to make sure preborn children are protected, so we’re doing our part here,” said Kim Schwartz, director of media and communication at Texas Right to Life. Asked if Texas Right to Life plans to file any lawsuits, she said, “Hopefully there won’t have to be any lawsuits, because abortionists will follow the law.”
Texas Right to Life is a major player in Lone Star State abortion politics. In past years, it’s run training camps for young anti-abortion activists; it also supported House Bill 2, a massive anti-abortion bill that ultimately ended up at the Supreme Court in 2016. By the time the court struck down the law, half of Texas’ abortion clinics had been closed.
In July, more than 20 Texas abortion providers filed a lawsuit in an attempt to block the law from taking effect.
The new law “will create absolute chaos in Texas and irreparably harm Texans in need of abortion services,” according to the lawsuit. “In particular, the burdens of this cruel law will fall most heavily on Black, Latinx, and indigenous patients who, because of systemic racism, already encounter substantial barriers to obtaining health care, and will face particular challenges and injuries if forced to attempt to seek care out of state or else carry an unwanted pregnancy to term.”
In 2019, Texas providers performed 56,620 abortions. The vast majority of those took place in the first trimester of pregnancy.
The effort in Texas arrives at a pivotal time for abortion rights in the United States. The Supreme Court has agreed to hear an abortion case out of Mississippi that threatens to overturn Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court case that legalized abortion nationwide. It will be the first major abortion case for the nation’s highest court since Justice Amy Coney Barrett, former President Donald Trump’s third Supreme Court pick, joined the bench. And she’s got five other conservative judges, including two handpicked by Trump, at her side.
The Texas abortion providers’ lawsuit warns that, if permitted to take effect, the lawsuit could have far-flung consequences—including ones that harm conservatives.
“Today it is abortion providers and those who assist them; tomorrow it might be gun buyers who face liability for every purchase. Churches could be hauled into far-flung courts to defend their religious practices because someone somewhere disagrees with them,” the lawsuit reads. “Same-sex couples could be sued by neighbors for obtaining a marriage license. And Black families could face lawsuits for enrolling their children in public schools.”