House committee holds hearing on Texas abortion law

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In a House Judiciary Committee hearing Thursday on Texas’ new abortion law, witnesses warned lawmakers that the impact of the state’s ban on most abortions after six weeks of pregnancy had extended beyond the Lone Star State.

What You Need To Know

  • The House Judiciary Committee met to discuss the impact of SB 8 on Texas and the rest of the county
  • Expert testimony warns of a slippery slope for those in need of an abortion nationwide
  • The U.S. Supreme Court is in the midst of hearing two cases related to the bill
  • SB 8 went into effect in Texas on Sept. 1

Abortion rights activists told the committee the new Texas restrictions were having ripple effects across the country, as Texans seek care elsewhere and anti-abortion legislators in other states propose similar laws. 

The Texas law had emboldened states to look at proposing their own, similarly constructed abortion statutes, said Stephanie Loraine Piñeiro, the co-executive director of the Florida Access Network. 

“My home state of Florida wasted no time in introducing an almost identical six-week ban,” she said. “I am worried for our future and what it means for people who need abortions today, tomorrow, and the years to come.” 

The Texas law, known as SB 8, was signed into law by Gov. Greg Abbott in May. The restrictive law prohibits abortion after fetal cardiac activity is detected, usually around six weeks – before some women know they are pregnant. The law makes exceptions for some medical emergencies, but not rape or incest.

The hearing, titled “The Texas Abortion Ban and its Devastating Impact on Communities and Families,” includes a number of Texas lawmakers: Democrats Sheila Jackson Lee, Sylvia Garcia and Veronica Escobar and Republicans Louie Gohmert and Chip Roy.

The hearing comes as the U.S. Supreme Court has taken up two challenges to the abortion law, the first from abortion providers and the second from the U.S. Justice Dept. The court allowed the fast-track consideration of the challenges on Nov. 1. The court is not likely to consider the constitutionality of the abortion law but instead will decide who can mount federal court challenges to the law.

SB 8 has an unusual enforcement scheme that allows ordinary citizens and not the state to sue anyone who aids or abets women from getting an abortion. Defenders of the law, including the State of Texas, argue such a mechanism shields it from federal court review.

In addition to Piñeiro, the committee scheduled testimony from Dr. Ghazaleh Moayedi, an OB/GYN and a board member of the Texas Equal Access Fund.

“SB 8 has completely decimated abortion access in my state and in the communities I take care of,” said Moayedi, who practices in Texas. 

During Moayedi’s testimony, committee members asked the Texas doctor about the unique enforcement provisions of the law, which allow the public to sue anyone who performs a prohibited abortion and anyone who helps a woman get the procedure. 

“I don’t have to imagine what it’s like to have violent people stalking me because that is actually my life every single day as an abortion provider in Texas,” Moayedi said. “I am followed into my job, I am screamed at, to my child scream by people who purport to love children.” 

The hearings include the full committee. Texas members of the committee include Democrats Sheila Jackson Lee, Sylvia R. Garcia and Veronica Escobar, and Republicans Louie Gohmert and Chip Roy.

Justices Amy Coney Barrett and Brett Kavanaugh, who were both appointed by former President Donald Trump and voted not to block the law on the eve it as schedule to take effect earlier this year, raised serious questions about the law’s structure during the court’s proceedings this week, seeming to indicate they may allow abortion providers to challenge it.

Justice Kavanaugh suggested that the unusual enforcement scheme – which allows citizens to sue over abortions instead of state officials enforcing the law – could be problematic.

“There’s a loophole that’s been exploited here, or used here,” he said, explaining that the question for the court is whether to “close that loophole.” Kavanaugh suggested that the “principle” and “whole sweep” of a 1908 Supreme Court case would “suggest extending the principle here, arguably” and closing the loophole.

“Millions and millions retroactively imposed, even though the activity was perfectly lawful under all court orders and precedent at the time it was undertaken, right?” Kavanaugh asked, one of several skeptical questions he put to Texas Solicitor General Judd Stone.

Elizabeth Prelogar, arguing her first case on behalf of the United States as solicitor general since being confirmed by the Senate last month, called the law “an attack on the authority of this court to say what the law is.” Prelogar argued that the restrictive law was enacted in “open defiance” of Supreme Court precedent.

The justices hinted Monday they might rule to allow abortion providers to pursue a court challenge to the law, but they did not indicate how soon that ruling would come. It is not clear also whether the Supreme Court in hearing the challenges would issue an order blocking the law or require the abortion providers to ask a lower court to put the law on hold. 

As legal challenges to the Texas abortion law continue, some abortion-rights advocates are lobbying Congress to allow federal funding of abortions. Progressive lawmakers support the idea but are facing pushback from moderate Democrats in Congress.

The hearings were expected to continue Thursday evening.  

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