After the Texas Department of State Health Services announced that a Texas law on abortion would likely go into effect on May 1, several women’s rights advocates are preparing for possible lawsuits, saying Texas lawmakers had gone too far in restricting legal abortion access.
In response, several activist groups called on Uber and Lyft, a popular form of on-demand car service, to help pay their drivers’ legal costs if they are sued over the law. Such a lawsuit could be tough to wage, since the ride-sharing companies often don’t have to show up in court or pay large settlement fees, but they have yet to make any sort of statement on the issue.
Janet Crepps, senior counsel for the Center for Reproductive Rights, wrote a letter to Uber and Lyft, asking them to make a “responsible decision” and commit to covering the legal costs of drivers who are sued. The women’s rights advocates described their concerns in the letter, pointing out that the latter had indeed run afoul of the Affordable Care Act in the past, thanks to the IRS in 2008 exempting non-profit churches from the employer-employee mandate tax, despite Texas and other states requiring religious organizations to take similar actions.
They also said that provisions of the law could force some women who rely on ride-sharing services to terminate their pregnancies in ways that are detrimental to their health, yet not cover them for legal fees.
“We suggest to you that although Uber and Lyft companies have resisted the conservative anti-choice agenda on Obamacare, they must now take the same principled position on abortion access for their drivers,” Crepps wrote. “Are they then to be exempt from Texas’ tragic abortion bill, with its draconian requirements that would subject women to unnecessary and medically unnecessary delay and expense?”
The Texas law seeks to make it impossible for some women to obtain abortions in the state. Most of its sections are misdemeanors that could be punishable by up to 180 days in jail. Critics say it’s the toughest anti-abortion regulation in the country and could push thousands of Texas women in unviable pregnancies to turn to back-alley abortions.
Specifically, the law requires that providers obtain patient consent before performing abortions, and requires doctors to follow protocols on which the Food and Drug Administration does not endorse. Women in critical condition would be required to have the procedure performed by a doctor on call at least two days later, and women who are unable to get to an abortion facility, even if they can afford it, would be required to have surgery before they can obtain an abortion, which abortion-rights advocates say could force many women in their second trimester to consider termination options.
As Gov. Rick Perry (R) has called the bill an attempt to “protect women’s health,” lawmakers made many amendments. One language added would make it illegal for non-credentialed “moral” counsellors to speak at hospitals or clinics about abortion, an allegation abortion-rights advocates dismiss as a scare tactic.
But perhaps the most controversial provision of the bill would allow doctors to punish abortion providers with imprisonment for a year for what they deem to be violating their own policy on the procedures. This could include failure to report fetal abnormalities to the state — a gross violation, according to legal experts. While female state lawmakers who hold authority over abortion legislation are being accused of playing a role in writing the legislation, they have not been named specifically in the bill or spoken about publicly about the specifics.