This is where it really starts to get scary and ugly.
For nearly six months, as Texas’ novel abortion law has wended its way through the courts, abortion providers and opponents have been locked in a stalemate.
The law, known as Senate Bill 8, empowers private citizens to sue anyone who “aids or abets” an abortion after about six weeks of pregnancy. With one exception as soon as the law went into effect, abortion providers in Texas have stopped performing these prohibited procedures — so opponents haven’t tried to bring one of these enforcement suits.
But that could be changing. A group of anti-abortion lawyers have taken steps to potentially bring lawsuits under SB 8, claiming in state court petitions that the leaders of two abortion funds have information about illegal abortions they helped patients procure.
This is a significant escalation on the part of abortion opponents, who have so far seemed satisfied with the chilling effect that even just the threat of lawsuits has had on abortion providers and their affiliates.
The petitions were filed by two women, Ashley Maxwell of Hood County and Sadie Weldon of Jack County. They are represented by Jonathan Mitchell, the architect of SB 8 and a former solicitor general for Texas; state Sen. Bryan Hughes (R-Mineola), the law’s chief legislative advocate; and lawyers from the right-wing Thomas More Society and America First Legal Foundation.
Maxwell and Weldon are asking a judge to allow them to depose the executive director of the Texas Equal Access Fund and the deputy director of the Lilith Fund before any lawsuits are filed.
If granted, the depositions will allow the petitioners to discover “the extent of involvement of each individual that aided or abetted post-heartbeat abortions in violation of SB 8” so they can “better evaluate the prospects for legal success.”
While abortion providers have reported significant declines in patient loads since the law went into effect, abortion funds have seen a surge in demand from clients trying to access abortions before the deadline or leave the state to seek the procedure.
“What [these petitions] mean to do is chill pregnant people from seeking out the help of abortion funds,” said Elizabeth Sepper, a law professor at the University of Texas at Austin. “If someone thinks that their identity and circumstances are going to be revealed to the world at large by a lawsuit … they’re going to hesitate before they pick up the phone and call for help.”
The petitions seek to depose Kamyon Conner, executive director of the Texas Equal Access Fund, and Neesha Davé, deputy director of the Lilith Fund for Reproductive Equity, two nonprofit abortion funds that provide financial assistance to patients seeking abortions.
Conner and Davé both admitted, in sworn affidavits in state court, that their organizations helped fund abortions “after the period in which cardiac activity is usually detectable.” That would put them in violation of SB 8, also known as the Texas Heartbeat Act, and open them up to potential lawsuits.
The organizations helped fund these abortions during a brief period last fall in which a federal district judge had enjoined the law from being enforced. A higher court quickly overturned that ruling; SB 8 specifically notes that an injunction that is later overturned is not a protection from future lawsuits.
That aspect of the law hasn’t been tested in court, and experts say it’s unclear whether it would hold up.
“In part, this attempt to get a deposition is also an attempt to figure out if claims can be brought based on the abortions performed in those few days where SB 8 was not in effect,” said Sepper.
The depositions are also seeking to identify who, in the language of the law, “aided and abetted” in these abortions — and the petitions indicate they’re taking a very wide view of that term. According to the filing, they’re seeking information on the funds’ role in facilitating abortions, the identity of individuals that they collaborated with and access to documents on the funds’ sources of financial support.
See here for the background on the state lawsuit, and here for the federal suit, which as we now know was routed to SCOTx by the Fifth Circuit precisely to keep it from being enjoined again. Make no mistake, the ultimate goal here is not just to go after people like Conner and Davé (who is a friend of mine), but everyone who donated to their organizations. The point of this awful law was to stop abortion, but the cherry on top for them was the chance to get rich doing so. I’m too disgusted to say any more.