Hours before S.B.-8 took effect in Texas, John Seago, legislative sirector of Texas Right to Life and architect of the state’s near-total abortion ban, was confident that his organization had the infrastructure in place to successfully enforce the new law. Over the last five decades, Texas Right to Life, “the oldest, largest, and only statewide Pro-Life organization in Texas,” has amassed a volunteer army of tens of thousands of anti-abortion lawyers and advocates eager to whistleblow, investigate, and bring civil lawsuits against anyone they think may have violated the ban on abortions after six weeks. “We knew that a law [that relies on civilian enforcement]… is only going to work, it’s only going to result in lives saved, if the abortion industry truly believes that they are in risk of a lawsuit if they violate the law. That is the ultimate goal. So we needed to [show] that we are prepared to bring these lawsuits… that’s why we’ve been preparing to bring them,” he said.
This abortion ban is what Seago, Texas Right to Life, and other groups in the state that oppose abortion have been laying legal and political groundwork for in decades of activism. After years of chipping away at abortion access through various partial-bans and regulations, Seago finally saw an opening to get a so-called heartbeat bill to the governor’s desk for signature, helping to elect many of the lawmakers who passed the six-week ban. The Texas Right to Life PAC has given close to $2 million in campaign contributions to Republican candidates who support the group’s legislative agenda in Texas. The PAC gave $10,000 to Bryan Hughes, one of the primary sponsors of S.B.-8, to help elect him to the State Senate in 2016.
Once they agreed on the type of policy to champion, “we talked about what enforcement mechanism is the best to adopt,” Seago explained. The need to devise a novel enforcement mechanism in the first place, according to Seago, was about more than ensuring the law would hold up in court. In October 2020, four Texas attorneys general joined other elected prosecutors across the country in pledging to never enforce any unconstitutional abortion bans. For Seago, the civil liability enforcement mechanism took power out of their hands and into those of the hundreds of thousands of citizens opposed to abortion. The tactic proved successful last week, when the Supreme Court issued an unsigned, 5-4 order that allowed the law to take effect that same day.