More than 370 Texas Lawyers Raise Legal Concerns, Express Strong Opposition to HB 1515 and SB 8 in Open Letter

County Attorneys, State Elected Officials, City and County Officials, Former Judges and Law Professors Sign Letter

HB 1515/SB 8 Would Allow Anyone to Sue Texans for Providing Abortions or Helping Someone Access Abortion

AUSTIN – Over 370 attorneys including county attorneys, current and former elected officials, former judges, law professors, and other members of the State Bar of Texas have signed an open letter to House Speaker Dade Phelan and members of the Texas House expressing strong opposition to House Bill 1515 and Senate Bill 8. These bills would ban abortion at six weeks gestation, before many people even know they are pregnant and create an unprecedented cause of action for the enforcement of healthcare regulations. HB 1515 and SB 8 would grant “any person” the right to sue an abortion provider or those who help someone access an abortion, including non-Texas residents and those with no connection to a patient. The cause of action is so broad it would allow a rapist to sue their victim’s counselor, physician or family and recover a minimum of $10,000 if they were successful.

Sign-ons to the letter include: 

Hon. Steve Adler
Prof. Alexandra Wilson Albright
Hon. Jo Anne Bernal
Hon. Andy Brown
Hon. Murry Cohen
Hon. Sarah Davis
Hon. Wendy Davis
Prof. Michele Deitch
Hon. Alex Dominguez
Hon. Rodney Ellis
Hon. Jose P. Garza
Hon. Delia Garza
Prof. Denise Gilman
Prof. Joanna Grossman
Hon. R.D. Bobby Guerra

Hon. Iliana Holguin
Prof. Loren Jacobson
Hon. Clay Jenkins
Hon. Ann Johnson
Hon. Abbie Kamin
Hon. Nancy N. Lynch
Hon. Barbara C. Marquardt
Hon. Christian D. Menefee
Hon. Terry Meza
Hon. Ina Minjarez 
Hon. Lina Ortega 
Hon. Eddie Rodriguez 
Prof. Elissa Steglich
Prof. Stephen I. Vladeck 

Please see the letter for the full list of sign-ons. 

HB 1515 and SB 8 are the first of their kind in the country and unique because of the private cause of action. Similar bills have been proposed in 12 other states, but none are currently in effect because they are so extreme. The broad cause of action created by these bills would allow anyone to sue and recover money even if they have not personally suffered legal damages or injury, which is normally a baseline requirement for maintaining a lawsuit in Texas.

Anti-abortion activists have made no secret of their desire to overturn Roe v. Wade. They believe the Supreme Court is on their side, but it has yet to allow an extreme ban like this to go into effect. In an attempt to avoid a constitutional challenge that the state will likely lose, these bills are drafted to remove any state actor from enforcing them, but allow “any person” to use Texas state courts to enforce compliance with 28 existing regulations and the new unconstitutional ban. This broad and unprecedented abuse of civil litigation to advance a political agenda has drawn outrage from the legal community in Texas. If passed these bills would have a destabilizing impact on the state’s legal infrastructure. The creation of a private enforcement mechanism of healthcare regulation is a concern because it could become a trend in state policy nationally.

Several attorneys who signed the open letter addressed to Speaker Phelan released the following statements in opposition to HB 1515/SB 8:

“This bill does nothing to protect women’s health,” said Harris County Attorney Christian Menefee. “It’s a blatantly unconstitutional attempt by Texas Republican leadership to misuse civil courts to restrict women’s access to healthcare, and to allow anti-choice activists to target and penalize healthcare providers. This bill is morally reprehensible and legally nonsense.”

“Our civil legal system exists to resolve real disputes between litigants, not as a political tool,” said Alexandra W. Albright, Retired Professor of Law, Member of the Texas Supreme Court Rules Advisory Committee.  “Anyone who is opposed to frivolous lawsuits should vote against this bill. It’s dangerous and it’s wrong.”

“Extreme proposals like this one always fall hardest on those who are already struggling to get access to the reproductive health care that they need,” said Harris County Commissioner Rodney Ellis. “This bill will not end abortion—it will just force people who cannot afford to travel elsewhere for abortion care to resort to desperate measures. By effectively banning abortion care, this bill will further marginalize communities already experiencing hardship as a result of the pandemic, February winter storm, and pre-existing structural inequities.”

“HB 1515 would ban abortion before most people know they are pregnant and allow anyone in the country to sue a doctor or a family member of patient,” said Travis County Attorney Delia Garza. “The bill is so extreme that it could even allow a rapist to sue a doctor for providing care to a sexual assault survivor and for the rapist to recover financial damages — allowing predators to profit off of their assault. Instead of empowering predators and playing politics with people’s rights, the Texas Legislature should focus on the real issues that keep Texans and communities safe.”

“Leaders in Austin want to use our court system to punish and harass women,” said Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins. “This bill would not only functionally ban a women’s right to choose, but is also an affront to our system of government. By allowing anyone in the country to sue, we would be throwing open our courthouse doors to harassing and frivolous lawsuits against doctors — putting more strain on our already overburdened court system. In passing HB 1515 or SB 8, the Texas legislature would be sending the message that the courts are a venue for political intimidation rather than the serious business of interpreting the law.”

 

About Trust Respect Access The Trust Respect Access coalition envisions a Texas where everyone — regardless of their age, income, zip code, gender identity, immigration status, or whether they are incarcerated or detained — has access to all reproductive health care options. 

The coalition includes: ACLU of Texas, The Afiya Center, Avow, Counter Balance, Deeds Not Words, Fund Texas Choice, Jane’s Due Process, Lilith Fund, National Latina Institute for Reproductive Justice, Planned Parenthood Texas Votes, Progress Texas, Texas Equal Access Fund, Texas Freedom Network, West Fund, Whole Woman’s Health, Whole Woman’s Health Alliance, Dr. Bhavik Kumar, and Dr. Ghazaleh Moayedi.