AUSTIN (Nexstar) — A state district judge in Austin heard hours of arguments from abortion providers challenging the Texas law banning most abortions and could be the first to rule on the law’s constitutionality.
The lawsuit is seeking to overturn Senate Bill 8 by deeming it unconstitutional. The law allows any private citizen to sue abortion providers or anyone who aids or abets in an abortion after cardiac activity is detected. It is now widely considered a six-week ban, because that is the earliest cardiac activity can be detected — a time when most women do not know they are pregnant.
Abortion groups are also hoping the suit will prevent Texas Right to Life, an anti-abortion group, from bringing civil lawsuits against them.
Attorneys for Texas Right to Life argued the organization is not the proper defendant for the lawsuit. John Seago, the group’s legislative director and a defendant in the lawsuit, said plaintiffs asking for an injunction against his group wouldn’t prevent other individuals from suing providers under the law.
“If today the judge gives them everything they asked for, they still are saying they won’t go back to business as usual,” Seago told Nexstar. “So that means that an injunction against us doesn’t actually solve any of their problems.”
Heather Hacker, an attorney representing Seago and Texas Right to Life, argued the same to Judge David Peeples.
“There are literally millions of other people who could sue them,” she said. “They will not change their behavior as a result of any relief this court grants, so it is basically useless.”
After the law was passed, Texas Right to Life created an online reporting website for people to report alleged incidents of violations of the law, so groups could file lawsuits against those parties.
“SB 8 creates a mercenary incentive to do what the government itself knows it cannot do. It deputizes literally millions of people to file lawsuits without any connection whatsoever to an underlying injury,” attorneys for abortion providers wrote in case briefings. “The result is a chilling of activity and speech related to abortions beyond the time when cardiac activity is detectable.”
The judge’s potential decision would not block the law altogether but could declare it unconstitutional. If he does, it would prevent Texas Right to Life from suing abortion providers if they violate SB 8, and it would affect how legal battles in other courts play out.
On Wednesday, Peeples did not say exactly when he will have a decision ready but expressed he plans to rule sooner rather than later.
“It just seems to be in the public interest that we decide this sooner rather than later,” he said.