What does the Texas law prohibiting most abortions actually do? Couldn't people bring suits before?

My understanding of the new law is that it allows anybody to bring suit against people helping a person get an abortion in Texas. It doesn’t guarantee they will prevail. But, what is actually new here? Can’t people already bring suits, including ones they are unlikely to win, and including frivolous ones? Does the new law guarantee the suit will go to court and not just be dismissed, or what?

The problem here is that anybody can bring a suit against someone aiding and abetting an abortion in Texas (except the patient). The doctor, the clinic, the damn Uber driver. And the person filing the suit doesn’t have to live in Texas, have any relationship to the patient, or even be an injured party.

The difference is now you do not need standing.

It used to be that you had to be personally wounded in some way to be able to sue. i.e., if you drive recklessly and hit me with your car, I can sue you for money. But now you don’t need that. Even if Jane Doe’s abortion didn’t affect you in the least, you can sue her abortionist now. And the law, presumably, will now NOT dismiss you for “lack of standing,” as people would have been in the past.

Ordinarily, you need standing in order to sue someone: That is, you have to have been harmed in some way. You could always try to sue, but without standing, any judge would throw out the case immediately. And it’s tough to see who would have standing to sue over someone having an abortion.

Under the new law, however, standing is no longer required (or, equivalently, everyone in Texas is considered to have standing). So the suits wouldn’t be immediately thrown out, and could go to trial.

As others have said, standing.

Also- with this new law- if a “provider” is sued and wins… he/she is still out legal fees. Just defending yourself in court will cost you. And since standing isn’t required… a single provider could be sued dozens, if not hundreds, of times for a single incident.

This law allows anti-abortion groups to mass-sue a doctor and put them out of business just from the lawyers’ fees alone.

It’s an old chestnut that in America, anyone can sue anyone. That’s not quite true. First, lawyers can’t bring frivolous claims. They are prohibited from doing so under ethical rules in each state (here is the model rule for most states’ legal ethics rules). So, in general, a lawyer can only bring a claim if they have a legal basis to assert the claim that is not frivolous. Before this law, if some random person in in Texas got an abortion and I wanted to punish them, I could try to sue them but I would have no legal basis for my claim. I would have not faced any harm, experienced any damages, or had any claims (as others have noted, this is called having “standing” to sue). The case would be quickly dismissed. If lawyers were involved, they could even be sanctioned or barred.

A person who files too many frivolous lawsuits can also be deemed a “vexatious litigant” and thus can be prohibited from filing lawsuits unless the court approves it beforehand. For your edification, here is a list I Googled of vexatious litigants in Texas. People who vexatiously and without foundation sued abortion clinics could thus be prevented from filing lawsuits altogether. I have no reason to believe that abortion opponents are particularly vexatious litigants but, if they were, there is a mechanism to stop them.

What the new Texas law creates a legal claim for anyone against an abortion provider or anyone else who counsels or helps a person to get an abortion after six weeks gestation. From what I read in the news, they are entitled by statute to up to $10,000 even if they otherwise have no connection or cognizable injury from the abortion. That is, the new law gives everyone in the state a legal non-frivolous claim in a lawsuit. In legal terms, as others have noted, this gives anyone in the state “standing” to sue.

So not only can “anyone” file a suit over a post-six week abortion. Now they can win.

What I read cited $10,000 as the minimum.

Coupled with the fact that the accused can’t recoup their legal costs even if found not guilty, it could mean that the courts will be clogged up with people just accusing people they don’t really like, just to inconvenience them.

And the upshot of that will be people scared of even talking about abortion.

I don’t really see how it can work in practice, TBH.

I can’t wait to hear about some supporter (hopefully an elected official) of this law needing an abortion or assisting someone who does. Its going to happen. Then, every pro-choice person across the country can file suit against them.

P.S. - If it is an elected official, they will probably go out of state. Still, if it becomes public I look forward to hearing the excuses.

As I understand it, the concept of “standing” is that the person suing has to have a connection to the case and have been hurt in a way more specifically than just some member of the general public. So I can’t sue because your misbehaviour causes, for example, the cost of policing in my city and so my taxes (and everyone’s) to go up. I can sue if you rob or injure me personally.

Note too, the law allows the person suing under this law to also collect lawyer fees if they win. The reason the USA is notorious for suing, is that except in extreme cases, everyone pays their own lawyers. Some states have “anti-SLAPP” laws, where frivolous suits can result in the rare case of the person being sued recovering lawyer fees. Compare this with most other places - Canada, for example, it’s pretty standard for the loser in a lawsuit to pay the winner’s legal bill. This helps limit lawsuits that are not likely to win.(Although some people with deep pockets, much like in the USA, are happy to sue just to harass the other person.) The other thing is that under the Texas law, the person suing gets to file the lawsuit (Naturally). They could file on the other side of the state, thus causing the person being sued to also incur travel costs. If the person is sued about an abortion and does not bother to show up, the sue-er gets a default judgement of $10,000 or more. Plus lawyer fees.

Also, anyone - even someone from outside Texas - can sue anyone connected to the alleged abortion. From what I’ve read, this can mean thousands of lawsuits against one person over one abortion. Also note - the woman cannot be sued, only those who in any way aided her. (without being very precise about what it means to “aid and abet”, this implying even a counsellor or an Uber driver or someone who lends them money is equally liable. (I wonder if Visa or Mastercard would also be liable if that’s how the woman pays?)

Then, the state can use the fact the abortion provider lost the suit default or not, to shut them down, and refer their medical license to the state board.

The travesty here especially is the expansion of standing to sue. It doesn’t take someone with a Supreme Court level of law degree to see if this sort of law is OK for abortions, then why not for anything else? Politicians who want to target any particular action - sexual harassment, speeding, barking dogs, loud parties late at night, wearing a mask, not wearing a mask, teaching evolution - can pass a similar law and let others drown the court system in frivolous lawsuits intended to do an end run around normal state enforcement processes.


Remember, this is GQ. The question was about what the law does, which is a factual question. The wisdom of the law, or its implications, or what is likely to happen as a result of the law, are all matters for GD, and there are already threads there for that.

If this was response to my comment, I apologize.

My point is - ignoring the abortion issue - the law by removing the need for proper standing is a wide, fundamental expansion of the legal system as it has stood for centuries. If it is permitted or constitutional, it will have massive implications going forward - if allowed to stand, that genie cannot be rebottled and by human nature will eventually be used in any other context. This was not a law to allow those actually hurt to seek suitable recompense, which is the basic purpose of lawsuits.

To answer the OP, this is what is new here about this law and one of the reasons it is making such a new splash.

Also note, the Supreme Court has declined to provide an injunction barring this law. This is not the same as ruling it constitutional or not. Normally, if the effect of a law could have severe and irreversible consequences and may be unconstitutional, the court will issue an injunction forbidding it from taking effect until a full hearing can be held. Why they did not this time is a topic for GD. But this is not an endorsement of the law. It may take months or years for this law or one like it to reach the Supreme Court, and they may hear arguments, and then issue a more precise ruling. But for now - the law stands and is in effect.

You are, of course, correct and thanks for noting that.

It wasn’t-- your post came in while I was already typing (the timestamps are the same minute). Most of your post was fine, except for possibly the use of “travesty” in the last paragraph.

Mostly, my note was towards @MikeF, because statements like “I can’t wait” and “I look forward to” bring that post squarely out of factual territory. But it’s understandable that the thread would have a tendency to drift in that direction, which is why it was only a note (for now, at least).

Exactly. The state wished to ban an activity which it found to be unacceptable, but (as per Roe v. Wade) was constitutionally prohibited from actually banning it. Thus, they are, instead, enabling ordinary citizens to use the civil courts to make the activity effectively economically unfeasible, due to the threat of anyone even tangentially participating in the activity being buried by a wave of lawsuits.

Is there any sort of penalty (other than whatever the filing costs are) to filing these lawsuits? Could one hypothetically file suits against any number of effectively random people in Texas, forcing them to defend against those suits?

And how ‘automatic’ is this default judgement if someone fails to show up to defend their suit? If hypothetical plaintiff’s entire suit is a baseless allegation and hypothetical defendant doesn’t respond in any way, does the hypothetical plaintiff actually get any money?

In Texas, the Plaintiff cannot file a frivolous lawsuit. You’d need to prove your claim in some way, even with a default judgment (a sworn affidavit at the very least). If Plaintiff did file a frivolous lawsuit, the lawsuit would be dismissed and Plaintiff could be sanctioned. The dismissal/sanction can be done by the Court without Defendant’s involvement.

All of that is highly subjective and each Judge has wide latitude to determine what is legit “evidence” and what is frivolous.

What would happen if I [someone with no inside reproductive organs left] were to go to a known abortion provider for my annual well woman check [or whatever they call it now] - would someone sue me, and could I counter sue them for trying to gain knowledge of my medical condition [which is by law considered private] and my effective defense to the whole abortion thing being I am exceptionally sterile right now thanks to an hysterectomy and I have the right to have my wellness check done at any medical provider I want?

My understanding of the Texas law is that the woman herself, who has had an abortion (or is suspected of having had an abortion by a nosy neighbor or whoever), cannot be the target of these lawsuits.

But, anyone else who may have aided in the procedure – the doctor, the clinic receptionist who set up your appointment, the clinic itself, someone who gave you money to pay for a trip to the clinic, the driver who took you to the clinic, even anyone who might have told you about the clinic – could be a legitimate target of such a lawsuit.

So, the doc could use the defense that I just came there for a girly check, not an abortion because an abortion would have been impossible.

Undoubtedly so, but said doctor will still have to deal with the hassle and legal expenses to defend against those lawsuits.