AUSTIN – Former Texas state Sen. Wendy Davis has filed a federal lawsuit challenging the state’s near-total ban on abortion, the latest effort by anti-abortion advocates to overturn the Texas law.
Past attempts to block the law have been unsuccessful and resulted in complicated legal battles playing out across federal and state courtrooms in the seven months since the law took effect. The law bans abortion at six weeks, before most people are aware they are pregnant.
Davis, a Democrat originally from Fort Worth who is best known for her 13-hour filibuster of a 2013 abortion bill, filed suit alongside Stigma Relief Fund, an abortion fund affiliated with Whole Woman’s Health, and Marva Sadler and Sean Mehl, two Whole Woman’s Health employees and Stigma Relief board members.
The lawsuit targets state Rep. Briscoe Cain, R-Deer Park, and three private citizens who have attempted to bring lawsuits against different abortion funds. Cain sent cease-and-desist letters to every abortion fund in Texas in March, warning staff at each fund that funding an illegal abortion could result in litigation.
Abortion funds are typically non-profit organizations that provide financial assistance and other support to people seeking abortions.
“We are asking the courts today to stop the unconstitutional harassment of abortion funds by confirming (Senate Bill 8) cannot be used to silence donors with bogus threats,” Davis said in a statement. “More than that, we are asking the courts to stop the nightmare (SB 8) has created for Texans if they need abortion services.”
The Texas law prohibits the government from enforcing the abortion law and instead allows any private individual to sue abortion providers or anyone who aids or abets an abortion that violates the law. Successful litigants can be awarded at least $10,000.
This provision has complicated past efforts to overturn the law. In March, the Texas Supreme Court effectively ended the most robust challenge brought by abortion providers to date, ruling that state licensing officials are not responsible for enforcing the law and therefore cannot be sued.
State data shows that in the first month since it was in effect, abortions in Texas fell by 60%. At the same time, clinics in neighboring states have reported an increase in patients from Texas and demand for medication abortion has also increased.
Davis’ lawsuit, filed in federal court in Austin on Tuesday, says the law seeks “to make a mockery of the federal courts” by allowing this kind of enforcement mechanism.
The main question at issue in the suit is whether Texas can adopt a law that does something forbidden by the Constitution. Two landmark U.S. Supreme Court decisions have established a constitutional right to abortion.
“Plaintiffs urgently need this court to stop Texas’s brazen defiance of the rule of law, uphold the federal constitutional rights of pregnant Texans, and restore the ability of abortion funds and their donors, employees and volunteers to fully serve Texas abortion patients,” it reads.
But as the case moves through federal court, it’s possible that the Supreme Court will take steps to undermine those landmark decisions. The court is considering a legal challenge to a Mississippi law banning abortion at 15 weeks.
During arguments in the case in December, the court signaled that it is open to upholding the Mississippi law, but it is unclear exactly how far justices are willing to go. The court typically rules on argued cases by the end of June or early July.