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In Texas, a former state senator challenges the state's abortion law in court


Since a restrictive abortion law went into effect in Texas last year, nonprofits have stepped in to help pregnant Texans travel out of state and pay for care there.

WENDY DAVIS: The law like this is having a disproportionate impact on people who are already marginalized.

MARTINEZ: That is Wendy Davis. She's a former state senator who became well-known nationally after a 13-hour filibuster of a 2013 abortion bill. Now she works with one of the abortion funds that's been targeted by Senate Bill 8, the near-total ban on abortion in the state of Texas. These funds are now legal targets under the new law, which allows civil lawsuits against anyone who aids or abets in an abortion after about six weeks of pregnancy. Davis is fighting back in court, suing four people, including a Republican state representative, for threatening to take legal action against abortion funds. Her case argues that the threats are a violation of the constitutional right to free speech. And as she told our colleague, Leila Fadel, the lawsuit claims the controversial law makes a mockery of the federal courts.

DAVIS: The first most important thing about our suit and other suits that have been filed against Senate Bill 8 is that we are resolved to fight. We aren't going away. And we're not going to go away no matter what happens in June of this year with the Supreme Court's ultimate decision in the Mississippi case that is before it right now. A lot of court watchers, myself included, believe that in June, we are likely to see Roe v. Wade overturned through the Mississippi case that the Supreme Court is considering right now. We are going to make sure that we do everything we can, No. 1, to create the kind of legislative statutory protections for safe abortion care that are needed, but No. 2, in the meantime, to fight with everything that we have against laws that are in violation of constitutional protections and of course, standing up to people who threaten suits for those who are doing everything they can to make access to safe abortion care possible.


You know, when this law first passed, a lot of people talked about their concern that it encouraged distrust and spying between people, between neighbors in communities. And I just wonder what it's like right now. Has that been the case?

DAVIS: I think, right now, it's certainly had a tremendous chilling effect. As you look at the landscape in Texas, what you see is that most clinics and most clinicians have complied with this law not because they've been sued, but because they fear those suits and what the consequences of those will look like. And that's created this terrible stalemate position where the law hasn't actually been tested. We haven't seen a court actually uphold it in terms of a suit being filed and a court making a decision on whether an individual has the right to sue under this law. Instead, we are living under the threat of it, which up to this point has been enough. But now we have these individuals. And that's what this lawsuit is about, because we feel they've given us a new opening and a new opportunity to challenge the legality of Senate Bill 8 and, hopefully, to strike it down once and for all.

FADEL: Now, your lawsuit says that Senate Bill 8 makes a mockery of the federal courts. It also talks about how it violates freedom of congregation, freedom of speech. Can you talk about that?

DAVIS: Yes. You know, part of freedom of speech, of course, and our ability to express ourselves can come in the form of making monetary donations to organizations whose work we support. That is the case for those of us who donate to abortion funds and to the other practical support organizations on the ground here in Texas who are helping people access safe abortion care.

FADEL: What type of calls, what type of people are turning to abortion funds right now?

DAVIS: You know, it's no surprise at all, of course, that a law like this is having a disproportionate impact on people who are already marginalized, people of color, people living on low incomes, immigrants, young people who don't have parental support. And these are the folks who are least able to handle the consequences of an unwanted pregnancy and, unfortunately, least able to be able to terminate an unwanted pregnancy. And that's why the support of these abortion funds and practical support organizations has been so crucial.

FADEL: Come June - you talked about the dangers, the possibility that Roe v. Wade is overturned. I mean, then federal protections are gone. So what does this mean for a situation where already abortion laws are this patchwork at this point?

DAVIS: If Roe v. Wade is overturned by the Supreme Court in June, we know that there are more than 20 states that have trigger laws or a similar law on the books, which essentially will immediately and effectively overturn the legal right to access abortion care in those states. Texas is one of them. And what that means is that we're going to have states where these rights are provided and protected and states where they aren't. And we will all have to work tremendously hard to make sure that we can provide the greatest access to the greatest number of people to the states where safe, legal abortion care is assured. And then we'll have to keep fighting with everything that we have to get the statutory protections at the federal level that this moment demands and that the people of this country deserve.

FADEL: Wendy Davis, thank you so much for speaking with us.

DAVIS: Thank you for having me.


MARTINEZ: Wendy Davis is a former Democratic state senator in Texas. She works with the Lilith Fund for Reproductive Equity, an Austin-based abortion fund. And she spoke with our co-host, Leila Fadel.

(SOUNDBITE OF INBAR FRIDMAN'S "13 DAYS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Leila Fadel is a national correspondent for NPR based in Los Angeles, covering issues of culture, diversity, and race.
Lisa Weiner is a line producer on Morning Edition. For NPR, she's covered the humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan and traveled to Ukraine to cover the Russian invasion in 2022. Prior to joining NPR, she held positions as an editor at WTOP-FM, as an engineer at Radio Free Asia and recorded audio books for the Library of Congress. Weiner has a master's degree in audio technology from American University. She got her start in radio working the late-night shift as a student DJ in the basement of WRUR-FM at the University of Rochester. Weiner has lived in Tel Aviv, Israel, and Budapest, Hungary.