Local Legal Leaders Come Out Swinging Against Anti-Abortion Bills

Travis County Attorney Delia Garza in January 2020 (Photo by Jana Birchum)

More than 370 licensed attorneys – including Mayor Steve Adler, Travis County D.A. José Garza, County Judge Andy Brown, and County Attorney Delia Garza – signed on to a sharply worded letter addressed to House Speaker Dade Phelan and members of his chamber strongly opposing a duo of anti-abortion bills moving through the Texas Legislature.

Senate Bill 8 by Sen. Bryan Hughes, R-Mineola, and House Bill 1515 by Rep. Shelby Slawson, R-Stephenville, ban abortion at six weeks – when, according to anti-choice zealots but not actual physicians, a “fetal heartbeat” can be detected. Since most women don’t know they are pregnant at this point, the bills would amount to a near-total ban. The local leaders joined other attorneys, former and current members of the House, and legal scholars in criticizing the bills, and specifically for their provisions that grant anyone the extraordinary authority to file suit against providers, even if they have no connection to the patient or do not reside in Texas.

While 10 other states have passed similar bans, they’ve been stopped by the courts from taking effect. The aggressive legal feature that Texas anti-choice Republicans have added to their bills – meant to shield the state from suits – is the first of its kind in the country. And it’s a blatantly unconstitutional one, according to the local legal community.

“SB 8 and HB 1515 contravene the Texas Constitution and undermine long standing rules and tenets of our civil legal system,” they write. “Because we believe that all Texans deserve a fair, efficient, and predictable court system, we ask that you oppose these bills.”

“Instead of empowering predators and playing politics with people’s rights, the Texas Legislature should focus on the real issues that keep Texans and communities safe.” – Travis County Attorney Delia Garza

Attorneys point out the bills could mean a huge influx of harassing and frivolous suits against a broad range of defendants, from clinic nurses, family members, and clergy to domestic violence and rape crisis counselors. Any person who even intends to help a patient – such as donors and supporters of abortion funds and clinics – could face tens of thousands of dollars in civil liability.

“The bill is so extreme that it could even allow a rapist to sue a doctor for providing care to a sexual assault survivor, and for the rapist to recover financial damages – allowing predators to profit off of their assault,” Delia Garza noted. “Instead of empowering predators and playing politics with people’s rights, the Texas Legislature should focus on the real issues that keep Texans and communities safe.”

By attempting to grant standing to people who have not personally suffered an injury, the bills fly in the face of the Texas Constitution and democratic principles, the attorneys stress. If passed, the bills could have a “destabilizing” impact on the state’s legal infrastructure. The legal professionals urged the Texas House not to use the state’s courts as a battlefield over abortion with bills that “subvert the foundations” of the judicial system.

“All Texans deserve a fair and predictable court system whose impartiality is above question,” they write. “Anything less ruptures basic notions of fairness and liberty in a democratic society.”

The Senate passed SB 8 in late March while HB 1515, ushered through by the House Public Health Committee this month during an untelevised hearing, sits on the House’s doorstep. The last day of the regular legislative session is May 31.