IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Texas’ abortion ban sparks two very different kinds of lawsuits

Two important lawsuits about Texas' abortion ban are now pending: one filed by women who were denied abortions, another by a man targeting his ex-wife.


When Texas Republicans approved a six-week abortion ban two years ago, it was obvious that the policy would have a dramatic effect on reproductive rights across the Lone Star State. It was also obvious that the ban would create important legal fights.

One came to the fore early last week. The New York Times reported:

Five women who say they were denied abortions despite grave risks to their lives or their fetuses sued the State of Texas on Monday, apparently the first time that pregnant women themselves have taken legal action against the bans that have shut down access to abortion across the country since the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade. ... [The plaintiff’s] often harrowing experiences will put faces to what their 91-page complaint calls “catastrophic harms” to women since the court’s decision in June, which eliminated the constitutional right to abortion after five decades.

It’s worth emphasizing for context the women who filed this case actually wanted to be pregnant — until they learned about their tragic circumstances, including two fetuses that had no skulls.

Legal filings can sometimes be dry and technical, but this lawsuit is a qualitatively different kind of document. As my MSNBC colleague Jordan Rubin explained last week, the filing detailed “the gruesome reality of life in a post-Roe America, specifically in Texas, where, as the suit alleges, not only the plaintiffs but ‘countless other pregnant people have been denied necessary and potentially life-saving obstetrical care because medical professionals throughout the state fear liability under Texas’s abortion bans.’”

In one especially notable example, one of the five women suing the state “was forced to wait until she was septic to receive abortion care, causing one of her fallopian tubes to become permanently closed.”

Yes, under the GOP-imposed law, Texas physicians are able to terminate pregnancies after six weeks if there’s “substantial” harm to pregnant women. But since no one seems to know what exactly that means, doctors — fearing enormous financial penalties and possible prison sentences — have refused to treat many patients in need of reproductive care.

In fact, as the Times’ report added, some Texas physicians have been afraid to even mention the possibility of abortion, “or to forward medical records to another provider.”

The litigation asks the courts to help establish clear boundaries that Republican policymakers failed to create.

This was the news at the start of the week. As the week came to an end, The Texas Tribune reported on a very different kind of lawsuit related to abortion in the state.

A Texas man is suing three women under the wrongful death statute, alleging that they assisted his ex-wife in terminating her pregnancy, the first such case brought since the state’s near-total ban on abortion last summer. Marcus Silva ... alleges that his now ex-wife learned she was pregnant in July 2022, the month after the overturn of Roe v. Wade, and conspired with two friends to illegally obtain abortion-inducing medication and terminate the pregnancy.

According to the lawsuit, one of the defendants texted with the plaintiff’s ex-wife and referred her to information about acquiring abortion-inducing medication through the mail. A different woman delivered the medication, and so she’s being sued, too.

If you’re wondering how in the world they could be subject to litigation like this, let’s briefly revisit our earlier coverage. Because unlike the usual abortion bans approved by GOP policymakers, Texas Republicans tried to shield their ban by shifting enforcement of the law from the state to ordinary citizens.

The result is effectively a vigilante system: If someone learns that a Texan had an abortion after six weeks of pregnancy — before many women even know they are pregnant — he could file suit against the physician who performed the procedure. And the nurse who was in the room. And the friend who drove the woman to the health clinic. And the family member who gave the woman some money to help pay for the trip.

Or in this case, the friend who sent a text about a mail service.

The man who filed this case is seeking more than $1 million in damages. As the Texas Tribune report noted, he’s represented by former Texas Solicitor General Jonathan Mitchell, who’s helped spearhead the abortion ban, and Republican state Rep. Briscoe Cain, who’s perhaps best known for his work on voter suppression.