Don’t Believe Fearmongering Lawsuits: You Can Leave Your State for an Abortion

Experts have long warned that abortion bans could be wielded to control or punish a partner’s reproductive decisions. Now, a man has filed a petition to punish his ex for allegedly traveling to a different state for an abortion. 

Don’t Believe Fearmongering Lawsuits: You Can Leave Your State for an Abortion

Since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, a rash of abortion bans across the country has both devastated the health care system and become a tool for abusive partners. In the two years since Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health, there have been several cases of men attempting to wield abortion laws to take legal action against ex-partners who had or allegedly had abortions. “This is all the inevitable outcome of Roe being overturned—IVF threats, wrongful death suits, women being punished, all of it,” Molly Duane, a senior attorney at the Center for Reproductive Rights, told Jezebel. Last summer, the National Domestic Violence Hotline reported that calls involving acts of reproductive coercion, or abusive partners trying to coerce their victims’ reproductive decision-making, had doubled since the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health decision.

One of the figures targeting women with legal harassment campaigns is Jonathan Mitchell, a top anti-abortion attorney and professionally bad person who helped create Texas’ S.B. 8—the state’s notorious “bounty hunter” law that allows people to sue anyone in the state who helps someone get an abortion for at least $10,000. Mitchell is also devising strategies on how to ban abortion nationally without Congress (and really doesn’t want Trump talking about the Comstock Act on the campaign trail). In April 2023, he took on a male client using S.B. 8 to sue the women who helped his ex-wife have an abortion. The women then counter-sued the man, alleging he was abusive toward their friend: He “did not file this lawsuit because he is interested in ‘protecting life.’ Instead, he wanted to control a life, [his ex-wife’s],” their lawsuit states. Before that lawsuit, in 2022, an Arizona man took legal action in response to his partner’s abortion by suing the clinic on behalf of the estate of his “unborn child.”

And in the latest case of legal retaliation from an ex-partner over an alleged abortion, another Texas man—also represented by Mitchell—filed a complaint in March to try to depose his ex-partner for allegedly traveling out-of-state for abortion care. The petition, filed on March 22, claims the alleged abortion amounts to wrongful death under Texas state law. (It also cites S.B. 8.) Per the client’s petition, his intent is to identify who allegedly helped his ex-partner have an abortion, identify her abortion provider, and sue all of them, as well as his ex.

This is where we remind you point-blank that traveling out-of-state for abortion is legal, no matter what terror tactics, misinformation, or warped legal arguments attorneys like Mitchell and the pretty transparently shitty men they represent try to tell you.

Jonathan Mitchell has orchestrated this case to instill fear in every Texan and make them believe they can’t leave their state for abortion care. To be clear, every person has a constitutional right to travel across state lines to get abortion care in states where it is legal,” Nancy Northrup, president of the Center for Reproductive Rights, which is representing the woman in the case and those who helped her access care, said in a statement. “But … the anti-abortion movement wants to deny abortion access nationwide, and this is a terrifying step in that direction.”

In the petition filed in March, Mitchell refers to his client’s ex-partner’s alleged out-of-state abortion as “murder” 23 times. A spokesperson for the CRR told Jezebel that Mitchell is “behind multiple attempts by hostile, and in some cases abusive, ex-boyfriends or ex-husbands, to take legal action against women who allegedly obtained abortions.”

There’s a “specific type of person that would file a lawsuit like this,” Duane said, emphasizing how women’s partners are wielding abortion bans and restrictions to harm and control them. “Anti-abortion lawmakers often say they would never punish the woman, but that’s simply not true. Even if abortion bans don’t technically criminalize the abortion seeker, anti-abortion extremists use other laws all the time to target them.” That, and as is the case with Mitchell, the architects behind these abortion laws are “the same people behind legal actions like this,” helping men harass and instill terror in female partners. Duane added that the woman is still trying to recover from that relationship. 

In the complaint, Mitchell writes that “fathers of aborted fetuses can sue for wrongful death in states with abortion bans, even if the abortion occurs out-of-state,” and “they can sue anyone who paid for the abortion, anyone who aided or abetted the travel, and anyone involved in the manufacture or distribution of abortion drugs.” Except, there’s a court ruling from February 2023 that’s temporarily blocked the prosecution of people who help Texans travel across state lines for abortion. And I can’t emphasize this enough: It remains entirely legal in all states to travel out of state for abortion care. 

According to Duane, the man’s legal action against his ex reflects the endgame of the anti-abortion movement to trap people in their states under abortion bans, mirroring the actions of abusive partners who try to entrap their victims: “It’s all about fear, chaos, cruelty in the extreme.” She pointed to local ordinances popping up in Texas that attempt to outlaw interstate abortion-related travel, as well as legislation and proposed bills in Idaho, Tennessee, and Arkansas that attempt to punish people for helping minors travel out-of-state for abortion. “We know abortion bans alone aren’t enough for them.”

Despite all of this, Duane said (again!), it’s absolutely legal to travel to a state where abortion is legal and have an abortion there. On top of abortion restrictions themselves, anti-abortion leaders like Mitchell are “using fearmongering and misinformation and terror” to pose another barrier to stop people from having abortions. “This is all part of a years-long extremist campaign,” she said, “where normal people just living their lives can now be targeted with this type of deeply troubling harassment.”

If you or someone you know are experiencing domestic violence and seeking options to safely access abortion care, you can get support from If/When/How’s Repro Legal Helpline here or call 844-868-2812. 

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