Several Republicans including Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan and Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.) criticized Texas’ near-total ban on abortion Sunday because of its provision empowering private citizens to sue those who aid and abet abortions—potentially signaling the legal tactic could face resistance from within the GOP as more states plan to copy Texas’ law.
Hogan said on Meet the Press Sunday that despite being “personally opposed to abortion” and believing in some state-level restrictions, the Texas law “seems to be a little bit extreme.”
The Maryland governor specifically pointed to the law’s “problem of bounties,” as the Texas law—known as Senate Bill 8 (SB 8)—says government officials cannot enforce the law, but rather directs private citizens to file lawsuits against anyone who “aids and abets” an abortion and stipulates they can earn at least $10,000 in damages if they win.
Kinzinger said on CNN that while he’s “pro-life,” what he “doesn’t like to see” is letting “everyone being able to tattle” and the fact that under SB 8, private citizens are “deputized to enforce this abortion law” against even potentially Uber drivers that transport a Texan to their abortion.
The GOP lawmaker also opposes the fact the law does not include exceptions in the case of rape and incest, though SB 8 does allow abortions in the case of medical emergencies.
Former Rep. Barbara Comstock (R-Va.), who identifies as “pro-life,” said on Meet the Press she views the Texas law as “bad policy and it’s bad law,” agreeing with a Wall Street Journal op-ed that described the law as a “blunder” that “sets an awful precedent that conservatives should hate.”
Abortion is “a debate that we should have that’s open and not just opening people up to be sued for any bit part in that process,” Kinzinger said, adding that any future abortion laws should take the rape and incest exceptions into account and “should certainly not be set up so that it’s enforced by people using private right of action to sue somebody.”
Though some are expressing reservations, many in the GOP have celebrated SB 8 and the U.S. Supreme Court declining to strike the law down. The Supreme Court’s decision “sav[ed] countless innocent lives,” Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) tweeted, while Rep. Bruce Westerman (R-Ark.) called the ruling a “major win for human rights” and Rep. Michelle Fischbach (R-Minn.) said the decision was “incredibly encouraging.” “I am even prouder than usual to be a Texan today,” Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas) said in a statement Wednesday after the law went into effect.
SB 8 prohibits physicians from performing abortions after a “fetal heartbeat” is detected—a term the medical community has decried as factually misleading—which is typically around six weeks into a pregnancy. That’s before many people know they’re pregnant, experts say, and abortion advocacy groups project the law is expected to stop approximately 85% of abortions in the state, marking the most extreme abortion restrictions to go into effect in the U.S. since Roe v. Wade in 1973. Abortion providers in Texas told reporters Wednesday they’re remaining open but now stopped performing abortions after that milestone in compliance with the law, causing those in Texas seeking abortions to now travel potentially up to 20 times as far to obtain one, according to the pro-abortion rights Guttmacher Institute. The U.S. Supreme Court was asked to block the law from going into effect but ultimately declined to do so, ruling 5-4 late Wednesday night it was too soon to bring a lawsuit against the law. A state court in Texas did issue a more narrow ruling that temporarily blocks anti-abortion group Texas Right to Life, which helped draft SB 8, from enforcing SB 8 against Planned Parenthood and its staff.
What To Watch For
More states are expected to follow in Texas’ footsteps and attempt to pass legislation that mimics SB 8. Lawmakers in states including Florida, North Dakota, Mississippi, Arkansas, South Dakota and Indiana have signaled their intentions to try and pass similar bills, and John Seago, the legislative director of Texas Right to Life, told Forbes Thursday he was personally working with three states on their own legislation. The federal government is also taking action to counteract the Texas law: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said the chamber will take up a vote on the Women’s Health Protection Act, which would enshrine the right to an abortion in federal law, and Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) called on the Senate on CNN Sunday to abolish the filibuster so that the Senate can pass the bill. President Joe Biden has also directed his administration to undertake a “whole-of-government effort” to try and fight the law, with White House Chief of Staff Ron Klain saying on CNN Sunday the administration was “looking for legal remedies” against the law and was “going to find ways if they are at all possible, and I think they are possible.”
The Supreme Court’s decision in favor of the Texas law has also spurred a new push among Democrats for reforms to the high court—something the Biden administration has already been investigating through a new commission—including expanding the court and imposing term limits. Klobuchar said Sunday the 5-4 ruling is also further reason for liberal-leaning Justice Stephen Breyer to retire and ensure he can be replaced by a Democratic president. “If this decision doesn’t cry out for that, I don’t know what does,” Klobuchar said.
Seeing danger, some in GOP leery of Texas abortion law (Associated Press)