A group that helped states write legislation for a record number of abortion restrictions since 2011 is expanding its toolkit with proposals to let patients and their families sue clinics to enforce those rules.
Templates with the new strategy for use by lawmakers will appear in the 2014 edition of “Defending Life,” a handbook by Americans United for Life. Charmaine Yoest, president of the Washington-based group, called such laws “the missing link.”
“All the work in getting pro-life legislation passed can be lost if there are no tools for enforcing them,” Yoest said by e-mail. “The enforcement module, for the first time, equips ordinary Americans to file a complaint, and expands the potential for people in their own communities -- in addition to state attorney generals or other legal office holders -- to hold the abortion industry accountable.”
Legislatures in 30 mostly Republican-controlled states passed 203 abortion restrictions in the last three years, about as many as in all of the prior decade. In that time, at least 73 clinics have closed or stopped performing abortions. The new laws were responsible for roughly half of the closures, while declining demand, industry consolidation and crackdowns on unfit providers also contributed, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.
A requirement that abortion clinics in Texas become hospital-like outpatient surgical centers, passed in July, was “inspired” by its model legislation, Americans United said. In March, North Dakota passed a law to become the first state to bar terminations because of genetic abnormalities, also based on the group’s drafts.
Its goal is to prompt a court challenge that would provide an opportunity for the U.S. Supreme Court to reconsider Roe v. Wade, the 1973 decision that legalized the procedure in all 50 states, according to Dan McConchie, Americans United’s vice president for government affairs.
The new proposals would provide the right for third parties -- as in non-state officials, such as a woman who had an abortion or her family -- to take legal action to ensure proper enforcement of an abortion-related law, said Denise Burke, Americans United’s vice president of legal affairs. States, not the group’s legislative templates, define “family” in terms of who has a cause of action or rights under the law.
One model statute would allow a person in violation of an abortion-related law to be held civilly liable to the person or persons adversely affected. It would allow a court to award damages, including compensation for emotional, physical, and psychological harm; attorney’s fees; and legal costs.