The law, passed in the regular Texas legislature as Senate Bill (SB) 8, authorizes lawsuits against anyone besides the mother herself that performs or aids a post-heartbeat abortion. Fathers that conceived the aborted child out of an act of rape or incest may not sue.
Three Planned Parenthood branches and an abortion physician sued pro-life lobbying group Texas Right to Life (TRTL) shortly after the Texas Heartbeat Act took effect to prevent potential lawsuits authorized by the law. TRTL had been encouraging and amassing legal resources for lawsuits against violators of SB 8, making the group a lightning rod for preemptive suits. The Planned Parenthood branches won a temporary restraining order that stopped TRTL and some of its associates from taking action against them under the law.
Planned Parenthood was not alone. 13 other plaintiffs sued TRTL within a week of the law’s effective date.
TRTL argued that all 14 cases were similar enough to be combined into a single case at the Texas Multi-District Litigation (MDL) Panel, a five-judge panel that consolidates cases sharing the same basic premises and facts. TRTL also asked the panel to halt all trial court proceedings until it reached a decision. The panel granted the request, leaving Planned Parenthood’s challenge to the law stalled along with the other 13 suits pending the panel’s decision.
As a result, the Planned Parenthood branches asked the Supreme Court of Texas to intervene and pause the panel’s stay order in the meantime. Today, the Supreme Court of Texas denied the request to stay the MDL order. However, even though the court has refused to unfreeze the 14 lawsuits, it may still take up the case.
In their petition to the Supreme Court of Texas, the Planned Parenthood branches argued that the MDL panel has slowed their challenge to the Heartbeat Act.
“On September 23, 2021, despite this urgency and demonstrated harm to thousands of pregnant Texans, the Texas Multi-District Litigation (‘MDL’) Panel entered an unsigned, indefinite stay of all state-court affirmative challenges to SB 8,” the petition reads, claiming the new law has “decimated” abortions in Texas.
“The order, which contains no reasoning, places a roadblock in front of fourteen cases pending in the District Court of Travis County.”
In response, TRTL accused Planned Parenthood of “rushing its case to final judgment” and said it was proper to consolidate the cases at the MDL since they share enough similarity.
“Each of these cases arises from the efforts of Texas Right to Life and [TRTL Legislative Director John] Seago to publicize the requirements of the Texas Heartbeat Act and invite the public to report evidence of statutory violations. These fourteen lawsuits target Texas Right to Life and Mr. Seago because they briefly established a website that announces Texas Right to Life’s interest in enforcing the Act and invites individuals to submit evidence of statutory violations,” the group wrote.
“All of the cases challenge the constitutionality of the Texas Heartbeat Act, and all of the plaintiffs are seeking to enjoin Texas Right to Life and Mr. Seago from suing them under the statute.”
Planned Parenthood also joined several other abortion facilities and counselors in a separate suit against the state that awaits progress at the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals after the U.S. Supreme Court declined to take up the case.
The Biden administration sued the state over the Heartbeat Act as well in another case. After a hearing on Friday, the judge is currently considering an injunction that would stop regular citizens from suing under the law. His order is forthcoming.
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