From The New York Times: 

People across the country may soon be able to sue abortion clinics, doctors and anyone helping a woman get an abortion in Texas, under a new state law that contains a legal innovation with broad implications for the American court system.

The provision passed the State Legislature this spring as part of a bill that bans abortion after a doctor detects a fetal heartbeat, usually at about six weeks of pregnancy. Many states have passed such bans, but the law in Texas is different.

Ordinarily, enforcement would be up to government officials, and if clinics wanted to challenge the law’s constitutionality, they would sue those officials in making their case. But the law in Texas prohibits officials from enforcing it. Instead, it takes the opposite approach, effectively deputizing ordinary citizens — including from outside Texas — to sue clinics and others who violate the law. It awards them at least $10,000 per illegal abortion if they are successful.

“It’s completely inverting the legal system,” said Stephen Vladeck, a constitutional law professor at the University of Texas at Austin. “It says the state is not going to be the one to enforce this law. Your neighbors are.”

The result is a law that is extremely difficult to challenge before it takes effect on Sept. 1 because it is hard to know whom to sue to block it, and lawyers for clinics are now wrestling with what to do about it. Six-week bans in other states have all been blocked as they make their way through the court system.

Court battles are now looming:

Abortion providers filed a federal lawsuit Tuesday that seeks to block a new state law that would ban most abortions in Texas.

Senate Bill 8, set to take effect Sept. 1, would prohibit abortions as early as the sixth week of pregnancy, before most women know they are pregnant. Between 85% and 90% of abortions take place after the sixth week, the lawsuit said.

“If permitted to take effect, SB 8 will create absolute chaos in Texas and irreparably harm Texans in need of abortion services,” the lawsuit argued.

The lawsuit also took aim at the “unprecedented” method used to enforce the law — civil lawsuits filed by “any person” against somebody who provides an illegal abortion or “aids and abets” an abortion after the six-week limit.

“SB 8 places a bounty on people who provide or aid abortions, inviting random strangers to sue them,” the lawsuit said, adding that the law would encourage “vigilante” enforcement, particularly by abortion opponents who could file a nearly endless stream of harassing lawsuits that could bankrupt providers.

Catholic reaction to the so-called “heartbeat bill” has been positive:

On March 31, the Texas Catholic Conference of Bishops, the public policy arm of the state’s bishops, was “thrilled to report” Senate passage of pro-life bills supported by the conference and considered its “top priorities.”

Jennifer Allmon, the conference’s executive director, said: “We have great hope that these bills, which provide further protections for women and unborn children, will become law.”

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