Over the past several years, there have been a record number of new abortion restrictions enacted on the state level, and abortion clinics across the country are being forced to close their doors. Americans United for Life (AUL) — a right-wing group that drafts anti-abortion legislation and shops it around to state lawmakers — can take a lot of the credit for that. AUL is responsible for many of the most hotly debated legislative proposals in the country, like the stringent bans in North Dakota and Arkansas that ban most abortions.
But the group isn’t stopping there. AUL continues to expand its portfolio of draft legislation, and it’s already planning its next tactic. The next frontier in anti-choice attacks? Empowering outside parties to sue abortion clinics.
As Bloomberg News reports, AUL wants to allow patients and their families to sue an abortion clinic if they suspect it isn’t adhering to state guidelines. The groups’ president, Charmaine Yoest, called these new type of laws “the missing link” that will allow people to ensure that all of the other legislation in this area is being enforced. AUL believes this is an important priority in light of Kermit Gosnell — the illegal Philadelphia-area abortion provider who anti-choice activists typically invoke to call for stricter regulation on legal clinics.
“New this year is an enforcement module that provides the legal means to hold abortion providers who harm women and girls accountable,” Yoest explained in a statement about the new draft legislation. “This legislative package represents the new frontier in pro-life protections, combining what we know about the deadly health risks of abortion with constitutionally sound legal language.”
What exactly does that mean? Well, it’s certainly not good news for abortion providers.
Thanks to the mounting piles of state restrictions on abortion, there’s already a lot of red tape for these medical professionals to navigate. In many states, doctors must adhere to guidelines that don’t actually represent the best medical practice, even if that goes against their better judgment. There are a lot of rules to follow, a lot of paperwork to fill out, and a lot of boxes to check. Many doctors are at risk of incurring felony charges if they break any of the state-imposed protocol. And under AUL’s proposed draft legislation, the risk of triggering a lawsuit is even greater, and this all gets a lot worse.
“The wave of abortion-related restrictions at the state level from 2010 has left a complex web of statutes and administrative rules that makes accessing and providing abortion care difficult and expensive,” At RH Reality Check’s Jessica Mason Pieklo explains. “Add to that the cost that comes along with greatly expanding the possibility of civil, criminal, and administrative liability for simply doing business, and the goal is clear: to make it too expensive to provide or access abortion care.”
It’s an important reminder that there’s more than one way to attack reproductive rights, and groups like AUL have been very strategic in their work to advance this goal. The stringent abortion bans are the laws that tend to grab headlines, but the more insidious threats to choice actually happen largely under the radar — gradually making it too difficult to be an abortion doctor and too difficult to operate an abortion clinic. Those tactics are cutting off the access to abortion at the source. After all, if there aren’t any medical professionals willing to risk their careers and their lives to provide abortion care, and if there aren’t any clinic owners who are willing to navigate these hostile environments to keep their business running, there won’t be anywhere for women to get an abortion. No access, no choice.
“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,” Yoest explained to Bloomberg News.
That sounds logical in theory. But in practice, abortion opponents have been building this type of ammunition for years, and AUL wants to give them a chance to use it to target abortion providers one by one. Anti-choice groups frequently conduct politically-motivated “investigations” into abortion clinics, and conduct undercover “sting operations” in which they try to catch clinic employees doing something wrong. Then, that evidence is often heavily edited to misrepresent what actually goes on at legal clinics. If states begin adopting AUL’s new legislation, those accusations could very well turn into real lawsuits.