On September 1, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to block a Texas law from taking effect that, as Slate legal analyst Mark Joseph Stern summarized it, “succeeded for the first time in almost half a century in outlawing almost all abortions in a state.” The legislation bans the procedure at about six weeks into a pregnancy, when the bill’s proponents claim that a “fetal heartbeat” can first be detected. Because most people don’t realize they are pregnant by then, the new law makes legal abortions practically impossible to obtain in Texas.
The most extraordinary—and, frankly, disturbing—feature of the Texas anti-abortion bill is its enforcement mechanism. The government is explicitly forbidden from enforcing the legislation. Instead, the law creates a bounty-hunter system that deputizes private citizens to bring civil suits against anyone who performs or aids with an abortion. As the New York Times reported, this includes “doctors, nurses, insurance companies, even Uber drivers who help take women to clinics.” There are virtually no limits on who has the standing to bring such a suit—a person doesn’t even have to live in Texas to do so. If successful, the plaintiff is promised a $10,000 reward; if the plaintiff loses, the law specifically exempts him or her from having to pay damages or the legal fees of the wrongly accused. These provisions are not only deeply unfair, tilted mightily toward empowering plaintiffs; they could inflict cruelty on pregnant people at their most vulnerable. Imagine a pregnant person who has a miscarriage—and an abusive partner who refuses to believe them.