Former Texas State Legislator Who Stood For 11-hour Filibuster Against Restrictive Abortion Law in 2013 Loses Lawsuit

A federal judge in Texas has apparently rejected a challenge by a former state legislator to an abortion law that conveniently bans the procedure after six weeks and allows private citizens to sue anyone who provides an abortion along with anyone who tries to help them as well. Former Texas state Sen. Wendy Davis, a Democrat who memorably stood for an 11-hour filibuster against a 2013 abortion restriction that banned all abortions after 20 weeks and required doctors providing abortions to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital, sued three Texas residents who publicly expressed plans to sue abortion funds under the 2021 law known as “S.B. 8.”

That law creates a private cause of action for private citizens to sue any person who “aids or abets the performance or inducement of an abortion” after fetal cardiac activity is detected, usually about six weeks into pregnancy, before many women know they’re pregnant. The law, which opponents have called a “bounty hunter law,” allows anyone to sue regardless of whether they have any connection to the abortion, patient, or provider, and provides for an award of at least $10,000 for each successful claim, effectively enabling private enforcement of the restrictive provision. Now this might just be a tricky little thing. Don’t you think?

“S.B. 8 is a blatantly unconstitutional law that bans abortion beginning at approximately six weeks of pregnancy, as measured from the first day of a patient’s last menstrual period (‘LMP’), and incentivizes vigilante harassment of anyone who assists abortion patients,” the lawsuit said. Davis, along with plaintiffs Marva Sadler and Sean Mehl, are all affiliated with the Stigma Relief Fund, a nonprofit that provides financial and other support to women seeking abortions in Texas. The complaint said that the law has “ironically” resulted in a higher-number of second-trimester abortions due to the difficulties imposed on women seeking to terminate their pregnancies.

“S.B. 8 seeks not only to strip Texans of their fundamental right to make decisions about their pregnancies based on their individual circumstances and religious beliefs, but also to make a mockery of the federal courts,” the complaint also said, adding that Texas officials have “admitted that the goal” of the law is to “prevent federal courts” from holding Texas officials accountable for the unconstitutional impact of the law. The complaint named Mistie Sharp, Sadie Weldon, and Ashley Maxwell as defendants because they had all signalled an intent to go after Texas abortion funds under the law.

The defendants moved to dismiss the case. Along with that motion, however, the defendants filed sworn declarations in which each of them said they have no intention to sue any of the plaintiffs. Last week, U.S. District Judge Robert L. Pitman granted the defendants’ motion to dismiss the case. His ruling was based in his finding that the plaintiffs hadn’t successfully shown that they would be injured by the defendants.

“The Court’s analysis begins and ends with its determination that Plaintiffs lack standing to sue over S.B. 8 because they have not articulated a credible, imminent threat that can be attributed to Defendants,” Pitman wrote in his ruling on Wednesday. The judge cited a 2021 Supreme Court ruling against abortion providers in another high-profile case as precedent for why this lawsuit couldn’t proceed.