87th LegislatureJudicialAustin City Council to Aid Legal Fights Against Texas Heartbeat Act

The resolution would aid legal challenges to the constitutionality of Senate Bill 8. The gender-neutral language lost one liberal councilor.
September 30, 2021
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The Austin City Council moved to fight the Texas Heartbeat Act in court today, approving a resolution that devotes city funds to “investigate and pursue appropriate legal action… to challenge the recently enacted [Senate Bill (SB) 8] law.”

According to the city’s meeting notes, the funds and legal resources would go to support lawsuits that currently challenge the law. It would not directly launch a lawsuit against the state.

The resolution was adopted on consent.

Austin Mayor Steve Adler spoke in support of the resolution.

“For the state to try to get around a constitutional protection by empowering vigilantes and offering bounties just cannot be the way to go,” Adler said.

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SB 8 bans abortions once cardiac activity can be detected in the womb. However, it forbids government bodies or members from enforcing this ban. Instead, it authorizes citizens to sue anybody, other than the mother herself, that performs or aids a post-heartbeat abortion. Alleged violators must pay damages of at least $10,000 to claimants that prevail in these lawsuits.

While a great majority of the council supported the resolution, Councilwoman Leslie Pool (District 7) said the gender-neutral language alienated her. Pool expressed vehement opposition to SB 8 but said the use of the term “people capable of becoming pregnant” instead of “women” in the resolution lost her support.

“As a longtime fighter in the deep field of women’s reproductive rights, I just wanted to stick my claim that it is a women’s right to choose, and we weren’t able to make those language changes in the resolution,” Pool said.

“There was a real need for me… to hold the line on that is the one thing women can do that men can’t.”

Councilman Greg Casar (District 4) gently disagreed in his statement of support for the resolution.

“I also do want to acknowledge and recognize that this is overwhelmingly an issue that impacts women in our state, and I think that is something that is well known,” Casar said.

“So many of these abortion restrictions are based on patriarchy… Women [are] overwhelmingly the people that get pregnant in our community.”

Currently, the city’s legal resources could go to a number of lawsuits challenging the constitutionality of SB 8.

A group of abortion providers and counselors led by Whole Woman’s Health provided the first major challenge to the law before it took effect. The Supreme Court ignored the groups’ petition for an emergency stay on the law’s effective date, leaving their suit to continue in the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals.

The Biden administration retraced their steps, suing the State of Texas over the law in the same federal district court. Judge Robert Pitman has set a hearing to consider a preliminary injunction against the law tomorrow at 9 a.m.

A number of abortion facilities were able to secure court orders protecting them from lawsuits by Texas Right to Life, a pro-life group that helped shape the law and has encouraged citizens to sue violators.

Lastly, a pair of disbarred attorneys are currently suing an abortion physician with a clinic in San Antonio who admitted to violating the Heartbeat Act days after it took effect. Their lawsuits are the first known test of the law’s unique enforcement mechanism, though both attorneys have said they aim to challenge the law’s constitutionality through their suits.

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Isaiah Mitchell

Isaiah Mitchell is a reporter for The Texan, a Texas native, and a huge Allman Brothers fan. He graduated cum laude from Trinity University in 2020 with a degree in English. Isaiah loves playing music and football with his family.