Late last week, in a ruling from the bench, Judge Aaron Haas of Bexar County District Court announced he plans to dismiss a lawsuit against a physician who admitted to providing abortions in violation of Texas's Heartbeat Act (also known as Senate Bill 8 or "SB8"). The law, which went into effect in September 2021 (9 months before the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade), allows private citizens to bring suit against anyone who performs, induces, or "aids or abets" an abortion after a "fetal heartbeat" can be detected, which is roughly considered to be about 6 weeks.
SB8 is written extremely broadly in that it allows "any person" to bring such a lawsuit, other than an officer or employee of a state or local governmental entity in Texas. If the person prevails, they are entitled to at least $10,000 per abortion, as well as their costs and attorneys' fees. This feature is why the law is often referred to as a "bounty-hunter" or "vigilante" law.
Judge Haas stated from the bench that he intends to rule that only people directly impacted by the abortion services in question have standing to sue under SB8. In other words, not just "any person" can bring a lawsuit challenging someone who provided or "aided and abetted" an abortion after 6 weeks. Although this ruling does not overturn SB8 – and even if it did, abortions remain almost entirely illegal in Texas under two different laws – this ruling appears to significantly gut a key provision of SB8 by proscribing who has standing to bring suit in the first place.
A written opinion has not yet been issued, though it is expected this week.
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