A Florida state lawmaker introduced legislation Wednesday that copies Texas’ near-total ban on abortion, with GOP legislators is otherRepublican-led states expected to to also attempt to replicate thecontroversial law, which empowers private citizens to enforce the ban through lawsuits.
Like Texas’ law, the Florida bill, introduced by state Rep. Webster Barnaby, a Republican, bans physicians from performing abortions if a “fetal heartbeat” is detected, a term medical experts criticize as factually misleading but typically happens approximately six weeks into a pregnancy.
The Florida bill also copies the Texas provision that anyone except a government employee can bring a civil lawsuit against anyone who performs an abortion that violates the ban or “knowingly engages in conduct that aids or abets” an abortion, with the plaintiff eligible toreceive at least $10,000 in damages per abortion.
What To Watch For
Other GOP-controlled states are expected to follow on. John Seago, legislative director of Texas Right to Life, the anti-abortion group that helped draft SB 8, previously told Forbes he was working with legislators in three other states to draft similar legislation, not including Florida. Lawmakers and state leaders in states including Arkansas, South Dakota, North Dakota, Mississippi and Indiana have signaled their intention or interest in copying the Texas law, and the pro-abortion rights Guttmacher Institute projected to the Washington Post that up to a quarter of states may ultimately try to pass their own laws.
“We are horrified to see anti-choice politicians in Florida following in Texas’ footsteps, and there’s no question that lawmakers hostile to reproductive freedom in other states will do the same,” NARAL Pro-Choice America Acting President Adrienne Kimmell said in a statement Wednesday. “Even as Roe stands, the evisceration of abortion access is well underway and Florida is just the latest example of the anti-choice movement’s effort to end safe, legal abortion in its entirety through vigilantism.”
The Texas law is the most extreme restriction on abortion in the U.S. since the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1973 ruling in Roe v. Wade that guaranteed the right to an abortion. It is part of a broader slew of state-level abortion restrictions from GOP lawmakers: the Guttmacher Institute reports 90 abortion restrictions had been passed in 2021 alone as of July 1. While other abortion bans have been struck down in court for violating Roe v. Wade, Texas’ SB 8 has so far been able to avoid judicial scrutiny thanks to its provision empowering private citizens to enforce the law, which makes it more difficult for plaintiffs to have standing to sue. The Supreme Court upheld the law in a 5-4 ruling saying it was too soon to bring a challenge against it due to its unique enforcement mechanism, though that case and a separate lawsuit brought by the U.S. Department of Justice remain pending in the lower courts. Plaintiffs including Planned Parenthood have also been granted court orders that have blocked Texas Right to Life and other defendants from bringing lawsuits against them and their employees under the law, but they do not block other plaintiffs from suing or stop Texas Right to Life from suing other abortion advocates.
While abortion rights advocates feared SB 8 would usher in a slew of “vigilante” lawsuits against abortion providers and others in Texas, there have only been two so far, both brought against a doctor who wrote a Washington Post op-ed saying that he had violated the law. Texas Right to Life has decried both lawsuits as “self-serving legal stunts” that are not “valid attempts to save innocent human lives,” as one was brought by a self-described “pro-choice plaintiff” asking for the law to be struck down and another from a former lawyer in Arkansas who has suggested he primarily wanted to test the law’s viability and stand a chance at the $10,000 reward. The anti-abortion group has not signaled any intention to file its own lawsuit, however, which could result in SB 8 being declared unconstitutional if it was to lose. Another anti-abortion group, Operation Rescue, instead filed a complaint against the doctor with the Texas Medical Board instead of bringing litigation.
Why Anti-Abortion Groups Won’t Sue the Texas Doc Who Flouted the Ban (The Daily Beast)