Catholic pro-lifers concerned about Texas abortion restrictions

CBS News

Texas’s newly enacted “heartbeat law” is “not the way” to advance the cause, say many Catholic pro-lifers.

The law deputizes private citizens to enforce its anti-abortion regime and offers $10,000 cash incentives as a sweetener to do so.

Catholic pro-lifers and leaders of pro-life organizations who otherwise support the law’s aim to curb legal abortions, have serious qualms about the statute’s unusual enforcement mechanism.

They say it risks creating an unseemly bounty system in Texas while establishing disastrous legal precedents elsewhere.

“It’s like you should be watching your neighbour,” one opponent says of the law’s deputisation strategy.

She is concerned that the push to enact the law was more about short-term gain for politicians and that it could cause long-term damage for the pro-life movement.

The Texas Heartbeat Act, which took effect on 1 September bans abortions after fetal cardiac activity is detectable. This is usually around the sixth week of pregnancy – before most women would know they were pregnant. It has an exception for medical emergencies, but none for rape or incest.

The U.S. Supreme Court’s precedents say states cannot restrict abortion before the fetus is viable outside the womb – around the 24th week of pregnancy. Federal courts have blocked several states’ “heartbeat” bills for violating that standard.

To short-circuit legal challenges, Texas legislators crafted their heartbeat law so that, plaintiffs with no personal connection to a patient or clinic can sue abortion providers or anyone who “aids and abets” the procedure – even the cab driver who takes the patient to the clinic, can be charged.

On 2 September the U.S. Supreme Court voted 5-4 not to block the Texas law, for now. They see the “statutory scheme” involving citizens enforcing the law as “not only unusual, but unprecedented.”

If successful in court, a plaintiff can be awarded at least $10,000 for each abortion a defendant performed, aided or abetted. The financial incentive has raised concerns about the law motivating bounties.

Texas Right to Life set up a website allowing for anonymous whistleblowers to report illegal abortions, but the site attracted fraudulent reports and has since been taken offline.

“It leaves mothers in desperate situations right where they were before,” writes a Catholic blogger and author.

“It doesn’t do anything for the economic reasons women feel driven to abortion. It doesn’t protect women from abusive spouses and parents, or anyone else pressuring them into it.

“Meanwhile, health care professionals have to fear a frivolous lawsuit from anyone who hears of them performing a [procedure] to remove a miscarried fetus or a uterine tumor, misunderstands and wants to cash in”.

“Making doctors afraid to treat women is putting every woman’s life in danger even if she’s never considered abortion,” she said.

The Texas Catholic Conference of Bishops says the conference celebrates “every life saved by this legislation.”

“I think the intent of the law is perhaps very good, but the way we implement it is going to be of concern,”a statement from the Washington Archdiocese says.

“It’s one thing to be against abortions, but seeing how all these people can be sued, to me that seems extraordinarily broad. I just don’t see where that’s helpful. How does that help us become more pro-life as a people?”



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