Texas is in a legal slugfest over two bills that have passed the state legislature. One passed in 2017 but never allowed to take effect, would prohibit dismemberment abortions. The other, just passed in May, would halt abortion of the unborn if a heartbeat has been detected. That beating heart can usually be heard around six weeks, and often before a woman even knows she is pregnant.
The Texas heartbeat bill signed by Gov. Greg Abbot on May 19 also is different from similar bills in other states in that it allows anyone — even someone outside Texas — to sue an abortion provider or anyone else who may have helped someone get an abortion after that time period, and seek financial damages of up to $10,000 per defendant, CBN News previously reported.
Texas abortion providers earlier filed a lawsuit to stop the law from taking effect on Sept. 1 arguing that particular provision would allow abortion opponents to flood the courts with lawsuits to harass doctors, patients, nurses, domestic violence counselors, a friend who drove a woman to a clinic, or even a parent who paid for a procedure.
Now, Texas attorney and abortion advocate Michelle Simpson Tuegel has filed another lawsuit and a restraining order hoping to stop the "Heartbeat" bill from taking effect. She argues that the Texas Heartbeat Law intrudes on the attorney/client relationship, saying if any client seeks legal advice on abortion, the bill could block attorneys from performing their duty to provide that advice.
"This bill is yet another desperate attempt by the state of Texas to undermine a woman's right to choose — this time by dismantling her legal support system," Tuegel told the local CBS affiliate.
The central question the lawsuit poses, Simpson Tuegel explained, is not whether abortion should exist, but whether an attorney should be permitted to give advice about state laws to their clients.
In a press release, Texas Right to Life (TRL) reacted to Tuegel's lawsuit, calling it a "desperate attempt to block enforcement of the Texas Heartbeat Act before the law takes effect September 1."
TRL also said the unique element in the bill that allows anyone to sue the abortion practitioners will help the law actually be enacted.
"This distinct enforcement guarantees that the preemptive lawsuits filed from the abortion industry will not be successful. However, Tuegel's lawsuit is now the second frantic legal effort to stop the Texas Heartbeat Act, days before the law goes into effect."
When he signed the "Heartbeat" bill back in May, Governor Abbott put its purpose in simple terms.
"Our Creator endowed us with the right to life," Abbott said. "And yet millions of children lose their right to life every year because of abortion. In Texas, we work to save those lives. That's exactly what the Texas legislature did this session. They worked together on a bipartisan basis to pass a bill that I'm about to sign that ensures that the life of every unborn child who has a heartbeat will be saved from the ravages of abortion."
Earlier this month, CBN News reported that a federal appeals court upheld the 2017 Texas law banning "dismemberment abortions" commonly used to end second-trimester pregnancies.
In upholding the law, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit on Wednesday reversed previous court rulings that blocked the pro-life law. Some court watchers say the case may ultimately end up before the U.S. Supreme Court.
The 2017 law, which passed the Texas Legislature with bipartisan support, has never been enforced because of legal challenges. It prohibits the use of forceps to tear the unborn baby apart limb from limb to remove from the mother's womb without first using an injected drug or a suction procedure to ensure the child is dead.
A three-judge panel from the federal court blocked enforcement of the law last year. But Texas sought and was granted a rehearing by the full court.
Saying the Texas law made a common abortion practice a felony, Judge James Dennis wrote a dissent on behalf of himself and judges Carl Stewart and James Graves that defended dismemberment abortions, saying the procedure was the most "common and safe abortion procedure employed during the second trimester."
Pro-life advocates applauded the court's decision supporting the law passed in 2017.
"Texans celebrate today's long-awaited victory," Texas Right to Life Director of Media and Communication Kimberlyn Schwartz said. "Anyone can see the cruelty of dismemberment abortions, ripping a child's body apart while her heart is still beating. We're grateful the judges recognized this horror."
Nancy Northup, president, and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights said her group is analyzing the decision and considering all legal options.
"Texas has been hellbent on legislating abortion out of existence, and it is galling that a federal court would uphold a law that so clearly defies decades of Supreme Court precedent," Northup said.
Alliance Defending Freedom, a nonprofit legal organization, filed a friend-of-the-court brief with the 5th Circuit in favor of upholding the Texas law.
"Texas has the right to respect the life of unborn children, and it did so when it chose to strictly limit the gruesome procedure of dismemberment abortions... What the Texas law forbids is causing an unborn child's death by 'corporal dismemberment,' in which the child dies 'by bleeding to death as his or her body is torn apart.' (It) prohibits the use of this grisly and unnecessary method before the death of the unborn child," said Alliance Defending Freedom Legal Counsel Elissa Graves.
The Texas "Heartbeat" bill puts Texas in line with more than a dozen other states that are taking aggressive steps to defend the unborn. The law is supposed to take effect on Sept. 1, but whether it will survive legal roadblocks to stop it is yet to be seen.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear arguments next session on a law in Mississippi that would ban abortions after 15 weeks. Mississippi is asking the Court to overturn Roe v Wade, the decision in 1973 that made abortion legal nationwide. What the court decides, in that case, will certainly affect the ultimate outcome for laws in Texas and other states.
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