Texas trigger ban on abortion goes into effect | Courthouse News Service
Thursday, November 30, 2023
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Thursday, November 30, 2023 | Back issues
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Texas trigger ban on abortion goes into effect

Thirty days after the Supreme Court entered its official judgment for the decision to overturn nearly 50 years of federal abortion rights established by Roe v. Wade, the Lone Star State’s trigger law banning abortion is now in effect.

AUSTIN, Texas (CN) — Texas’ trigger law banning abortion is enforceable as of Thursday. The procedure was already deemed illegal under a 1925 law revived after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, but the penalties for violations have increased significantly.

The trigger law, House Bill 1280, also known as the Human Life Protection Act, was passed by the Republican-led Texas Legislature and signed into law by Republican Governor Greg Abbott in June of last year. At the time, the law was largely overshadowed by another, more inventive law – Senate Bill 8 – which nearly banned all abortions in the state during a time when the right to the procedure was constitutionally protected.

HB 1280 makes it a first-degree felony for anyone to provide an abortion that results in the termination of a pregnancy. In Texas, anyone found guilty of a first-degree felony can face imprisonment of up to 99 years and a maximum fine of $10,000. Additionally, HB 1280 permits the attorney general to file a civil lawsuit against violators and may seek penalties of a minimum of $100,000 for each violation.

The law does provide an exception if a pregnancy threatens the life of the pregnant person. However, it does not provide exceptions in cases of rape or incest.

Alongside HB 1280, SB 8 remains in effect and allows private citizens to file civil lawsuits against anyone who provides or helps someone attain an abortion, with a possible minimum award of $10,000 per lawsuit. 

In addition, the 1925 that outright bans abortion in the state carries a punishment of up to five years in prison for providing the procedure. Once defunct under the precedent of Roe, the statute was never repealed by the Texas Legislature. After a battle between abortion providers and Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, the Texas Supreme Court ruled that the law may once again be enforced. 

Actualizing the reality in which abortion is illegal in Texas has been a decades-long effort on behalf of right-wing lawmakers and activists. One such activist is John Seago, president of Texas Right To Life, the largest anti-abortion organization in the state. In a statement to Courthouse News, Seago called Thursday a historical moment.

“Now with the trigger law taking effect, we have updated language, stricter penalties, and more enforcement tools to stop abortion across our state,” said Seago. “However, at this moment of historical victory, we must also recognize the new challenges Texas faces to ensure that our state is truly abortion-free.”

According to Seago, anti-abortion advocates must redirect their focus to district attorneys who vow not to enforce state prohibitions and eliminate avenues for people to receive abortion drugs through the mail. Seago indicated that he plans to continue working with lawmakers to ensure such reforms are made.

On June 24, after the Supreme Court released its decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization overturning the federal right to abortion established in Roe, Abbott said in a statement that he will “continue working… to save every child from the ravages of abortion and help our expectant mothers in need.” He has continually signaled to the members of his party in the Legislature that he is open to further criminalizing the procedure. 

The trigger law was designed to take effect 30 days after the high court issued its official judgment in Dobbs, which occurred a month after the opinion release on July 26.

Abbott, who is running for reelection, has found many of his words on the issue of abortion used against him by his Democratic opponent, Beto O’Rourke. The former El Paso congressman and presidential candidate released an ad Thursday calling the trigger law extreme.

“Reproductive health care is under attack in this state more than anywhere else in this country,” O’Rourke said at a press conference in Houston. “There is one person who is responsible for that and that is Governor Greg Abbott. There is one way to overcome this and that is by defeating him in this election on Nov. 8.”

It remains to be seen whether the issue of abortion could be Abbott’s undoing in the midterm elections. However, polling has shown that many Texans are not on board with the direction the state is headed on this issue. According to a poll conducted in June by the University of Texas at Austin and the Texas Politics Project, 46% of registered voters disapprove of Abbott’s actions limiting abortion access. Thirty-six percent of registered voters approved of the governor's actions.

If O’Rourke is successful in unseating the two-term incumbent, it is unclear how he would go about attempting to reverse the statutes that have been put in place. However, as governor, he would have the ability to veto further restrictions.

The trigger law taking effect comes a day after a federal judge in Lubbock, Texas, blocked the enforcement of guidance from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services that required hospitals to provide emergency abortions to preserve the life of the pregnant person. The ruling only blocks enforcement of the guidance in the State of Texas or against members of the Christian Medical and Dental Association and American Association of Pro-Life Obstetricians and Gynecologists.

Along with the State of Texas, Idaho and Tennessee also had trigger bans take effect Thursday. Twelve states in total have banned abortion, while two states, Georgia and Ohio, ban the procedure after six weeks of pregnancy.

Legal challenges to these laws have continued. On Tuesday, pro-abortion rights groups filed a lawsuit against the state, seeking to block it from enforcing its laws against them, claiming the restrictions violate their First Amendment rights to speak, donate money and associate freely. 

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