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Abortion-rights groups sue Texas AG to protect ability to help people seek abortions in other states

 Attorney General Ken Paxton speaks at a press conference at the Houston Recovery Center on Oct. 26, 2021.
Mark Felix for The Texas Tribune
Attorney General Ken Paxton speaks at a press conference at the Houston Recovery Center on Oct. 26, 2021.

The suit came two days before the state’s newest abortion ban, triggered by the overturning of Roe v. Wade, goes into effect.

Reproductive rights groups on Tuesday filed a federal class-action lawsuit to head off possible prosecution from Texas officials for helping Texans gain access to legal abortions in other states.

The suit filed in Austin names Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton as well as a class composed of the county and district attorneys who could enforce the state’s near-total abortion ban, which goes into effect on Thursday.

The law, known as House Bill 1280, was passed last year. It is “triggered” into taking effect on Thursday by the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in June on Dobbs v. Jackson, which overturned Roe v. Wade’s constitutional protection for abortion access.

The plaintiffs want a federal judge to issue an injunction barring Paxton and prosecutors from using that law and other statutes to target those reproductive rights groups for activities the groups say conservative state leaders may politically oppose but are still legal.

The groups want the court to confirm that “the Trigger Ban cannot be enforced by any Defendant … in a manner that violates Plaintiffs’ rights to freely travel, freely associate, freely speak, and freely support members of their communities through financial assistance, as guaranteed by the United States Constitution and federal law,” according to the suit.

The named plaintiffs are Fund Texas Choice, the North Texas Equal Access Fund, the Lilith Fund for Reproductive Equity, Frontera Fund, The Afiya Center, West Fund, Jane’s Due Process, Clinic Access Support Network and Dr. Ghazaleh Moayedi, an outspoken Texas provider.

They’re asking for legal protection to continue fundraising and paying for out-of-state abortion expenses, including raising funds for travel or other costs or for the procedure itself, as well as helping pregnant Texans with logistical information about legal abortions out of state, according to the lawsuit.

The Lilith Fund and others have already been targeted by the lawyers and lawmakers who helped craft the Texas abortion bans seeking to depose them over abortions they helped people pay for, although no depositions have happened yet.

Abortion clinics have already stopped performing the procedure, fearing prosecution under state laws that were on the books before Roe v. Wade. In this lawsuit, the plaintiffs say they too have stopped working in Texas as conservative state leaders and lawmakers vow to punish them too with ever-increasing threats of criminal and civil action.

“Agents of the state of Texas contend that virtually every activity of those who assist pregnant Texans to understand their rights and medical options is now subject to criminal prosecution,” the lawsuit reads. “The threats have been repeated and far-ranging, and the intimidation has chilled helping professionals from providing counseling, financial, logistical, and even informational assistance to pregnant Texans who may need to access abortion care outside of the state.”

Paxton could not be reached for comment late Tuesday.

The suit argues that Paxton, along with “activist legislators and their associates,” are waging a coordinated effort to harass organizations exercising their right to free speech by defending access to abortions and helping pregnant Texans seek them legally under the current bans. Most of the latter involves financial or logistical help in obtaining an abortion in another state where the procedure is still legal.

The court filing points to, as an example, several statements in late June by state Rep. Briscoe Cain, R-Deer Park, asserting that donors, volunteers, employees and anyone else connected to these groups are guilty of violating the law for helping people legally outmaneuver the Texas ban. He also has suggested that the constitutionally protected right to travel interstate for any reason doesn’t translate to the right to pay for someone else to do it, such as for an abortion.

Disclosure: Afiya Center has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune's journalism. Find a complete list of them here.

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From The Texas Tribune

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