A wide-ranging new bill on abortion could result in almost anyone who is involved in the process of an unlawful abortion in Texas being charged with a state jail felony.
The legislation passed the Texas House on May 19. A report in The Observer highlighted the sweeping nature of this law.
Representative Joe Moody, who is a former prosecutor, said those open to criminal charges would include the doctor who performed the abortion, the receptionist who booked the appointment and the person who drove the woman to the clinic. Even the bank teller who cashed the check that paid for the abortion could be open to criminal charges.
Moody said he believed this was an unintended consequence of the legislation. However, his amendment to restrict those who could be prosecuted failed.
The Observer spoke to other attorneys who feared the bill will give a new subjective tool to prosecutors who may have political motivations.
The bill which hask of Governor Greg Abbott for signing after Senate approval would criminalize “partial birth abortions” and “dismemberment abortions.”
Partial birth abortions are already prohibited under federal law. The second procedure describes a dilation and evacuation process, a common form of second trimester abortion.
A doctor who carries out either procedure would face a state jail felony, punishable by up to two years in prison. The woman who had the procedure would be exempted from criminal sanctions.
But there’s a caveat. Under Texas law, prosecutors have the power to come after other parties involved in the process, unless specifically exempted in the legislation itself.
Texas is unusual among states in having a so-called “law of parties” which allows someone who is connected to a crime he or she did not carry out to be charged and receive the same sentence.
Last year, Jeff Wood, a man who never killed anyone faced execution under the “law of parties.” Wood was a driver for a friend who killed a clerk in a robbery at a gas station. Wood was outside in the car when the killing occurred. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals halted the execution.
Under the law of parties in Texas, a person is held criminally responsible if he or she, acting with intent, “solicits, encourages, directs, aids, or attempts to aid the other person to commit the offense.”
Although this law is aimed at gangs and criminal networks, in the case of the abortion law, it could be used to bring charges against a wide range of people who helped provide an unlawful abortion even if they had little knowledge of what they were doing.
Our Dallas criminal defense lawyers, are acutely aware of the fast-moving legislation in Texas that changes the landscape of the criminal law. See our results here.