How Does Texas’s Terrifying New Abortion Bounty Actually Work?

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A rare piece of good news in Texas’s fight to protect abortion rights was handed down on Wednesday when a federal judge ordered the suspension of S.B. 8, the law instituted last month that restricts all access to abortion after the six-week mark of a pregnancy. Attorney General Merrick Garland called the order “a victory for women in Texas and for the rule of law.”

While pro-choice organizations like Planned Parenthood are hopeful that the order will allow clinics to resume abortion services after six weeks of pregnancy, many abortion providers are still in a kind of limbo, particularly due to the so-called bounty aspect of S.B. 8 that effectively deputizes private citizens to act as agents of the state and sue people suspected of aiding abortion efforts. And if those plaintiffs are successful, they receive a financial reward. Below, get all the details on this alarming new legal precedent.

How does the S.B. 8 bounty actually work?

The idea behind the bounty is to shift enforcement of S.B. 8 away from state jurisdiction and toward private citizens. To put it simply: If an individual were to suspect, say, a Lyft driver of taking a pregnant person to an appointment for an abortion after the six-week mark, said individual could sue the Lyft driver and collect a judgment of $10,000—and a refunding of their legal fees—from the Lyft driver if the lawsuit were successful. 

Who can turn in people suspected of aiding and abetting abortions in exchange for the $10,000 bounty?

Alarmingly enough, the bounty is not limited to Texas residents, meaning that virtually anyone, anywhere, could file a complaint in any court within the state if they believed an abortion was being performed beyond the six-week mark. The pregnant person receiving the abortion is not liable to lawsuits, but everyone helping them obtain said abortion is; this includes doctors, nurses, insurance companies, and even friends or ride-share drivers who merely escort the pregnant person to their appointment.

Has anyone received the bounty yet?

No bounties have been paid out yet by the state of Texas, but that doesn’t mean lawsuits haven’t been filed; in September, two separate plaintiffs filed lawsuits against Alan Braid, a San Antonio physician who wrote a Washington Post op-ed about violating the ban and continuing to provide his patients with abortion care. While the two plaintiffs—Oscar Stilley and Felipe N. Gomez—have said publicly that they are not personally anti-abortion, they could still stand to benefit financially if a Texas court finds merit in their respective suits against Braid.

How will the bounty affect Texas abortion providers?

Adversely, to say the least. According to data provided by the Guttmacher Institute, there were only 35 facilities providing abortions in Texas in 2017, representing a 25% decline in clinics from just three years earlier; this number feels especially jarring when you consider that Texas is the second most populous state in the country, with 50.4% of that population female. Texas abortion providers were already stretched thin before the passage of S.B. 8, and the new law will likely only embolden anti-choice protestors to continue harassing providers and pregnant people seeking abortions.

Could other states follow in Texas’s footsteps with laws like S.B. 8?

Unfortunately, yes. In December, the Supreme Court will hear arguments in a Mississippi case that poses a serious challenge to Roe v. Wade, the 1973 ruling that declared a constitutional right to obtain an abortion within the first six months of pregnancy. Mississippi, which has only one abortion clinic left, hasn’t yet proposed an abortion bounty, but it could soon.


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